10 Messy Summer Science Activities for Outside!

One of the best ways to engage in hands-on science learning is by simply messing about. When children’s play leads them to make observations about the things around them and the ways in which they interact with each other, they learn powerful lessons that they’ll remember for years to come. Luckily the time of year messy science learning can be done outdoors! Below are ten suggestions for hands-on science activities that families can engage in both to learn about a specific topic and to encourage self-directed “messing about” with safe science materials once formal experimentation has been done. 

  1. Natural Tie-Dye ♦ Show off some unique DIY fashion after testing out the colors made by familiar everyday edibles! There are a great many fruits vegetables, herbs, and plants that can be used to make fabric dye, and they don’t always produce the colors you’d expect. Experiment with natural homemade dyes on a piece of scrap fabric, then put the dyes to less experimental use by dying your clothes, too! (If there’s any dye leftover, try filtering it with your homemade water filter!)
  2. Mud Bricks ♦ Gather dirt, sand, and all kinds of other natural materials and get ready to make a mess! This experiment is best when done in a somewhat organized fashion, so that brick recipes can be compared for effectiveness once they’ve dried, but it’s still a ton of muddy fun. Young scientists engaging in brick-making will learn about soil science, and can further explore brick science by learning about different types of bricks found in different parts of the world.
  3. Waterproofing Test ♦ Explore properties of materials by testing how waterproof they are! Household materials like tin foil, masking tape, and wax paper make for a good experiment, but perhaps more interesting might be a test of clothing and accessory materials whose labels claim they are waterproof or water-resistant. Ranking the degree of waterproof-ness of each material tested can help to strengthen critical thinking skills!
  4. Catapult Physics ♦ Using a homemade catapult crafted with whatever materials are available, families can experiment with physics by catapulting anything from potatoes to water balloons! Be sure to use your catapult in a large, open space where people or pets won’t accidentally interfere with your object’s trajectory.
  5. Plastic Bag Explosion ♦ The classic baking soda and vinegar science project takes an explosive twist in this experiment! Families can learn about gas expansion by watching a sandwich bag explode when baking soda and vinegar meet. Carbon dioxide, released during the reaction between the two ingredients, will eventually fill the bag to its breaking point.
  6. Compost ♦ This project is definitely one that requires patience, but it is a great way to learn about decomposition, soil science, and perhaps even worms! A compost bin can be easily created using a plastic storage bin or garbage can, and the fun for kiddos comes when food scraps are added and the bin needs shaking and stirring. Eventually, food will break down and become food for garden plants – and it’s a fantastically gross process to watch!
  7. Water Cycle in a Jar ♦ Recreate the water cycle on a minuscule scale by using hot water, ice cubes, a jar, and a plate! When hot water in a jar meets an icy lid, clouds form and cause water to collect on the sides of the jar. Families can experiment with water and lid temperature in order to better understand the role that temperature plays in the water cycle.
  8. Pavement Frying Pan ♦ Put the expression “hot enough to fry an egg” to the test by actually trying to fry an egg outside using the power of the sun. Best done on a 90+ degree day, this experiment is easy. Simply crack an egg on blacktop and check on it every few minutes. For young kids, this experiment can double as a language skills activity as finding adjectives to describe the changes in the eggs over time can be quite a challenge!
  9. Water Filtration ♦ Using natural materials (aside from the containers they’ll be put into), families can build a water filter that will clean water in the same way that rocks and soil in the ground do. While the water that is cleaned by the filter won’t be drinkable, it’s remarkable to watch the transition from muddy to clean that water can undergo – all from running through sand, gravel, and cotton. Experimenting with filter materials can help young scientists understand how underground springs produce clear water!
  10. Walking Water ♦ Learn about water absorption by watching water move from a full container to an empty one! Using food coloring, and jars, glasses, recycled plastic containers, or any small liquid-holding vessels, families can watch water be absorbed by a paper towel and moved from one container to another. If colored water is used, families can think about pairing colors in order to create a full rainbow’s worth of water. While this experiment requires some patience, it is totally worth the wait!

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