Around Christmastime, our family "closes the door for the holidays." It's just me, Bill, our kids, and a few very close family and friends getting away for a couple weeks from our busy lives. It's amazing what you can learn—about yourself, about each other, and about the world—when you unplug and spend some time together.
One of my favorite holiday memories is the time the kids decided to dump a bunch of Styrofoam packing peanuts into a closet and build their own McDonald's-style ball pit. Normally, my reaction would be, "Noooo!" But since it was Christmas, I went with "Why not?" instead. We let them play in the Styrofoam peanuts pit for the next few days.
Little did we realize that they'd end up with an early lesson about electricity. As you've probably noticed, those packing materials like to stick to you. Like many plastics, they draw electrons away from common objects like air, hair, and cardboard. Because they don't conduct electricity, the charge just stays static on the surface, and the stuff is so light that it clings to any surface it can find. When it's cold and the air is dry, those pesky pieces are even harder to get rid of.
For us that Christmas, these basic principles of science meant that we had to make a new rule. After playing in the Styrofoam peanuts pit—but before they went anywhere else in the house—the kids had to submit to being vacuumed off with a DustBuster.
Since then, I've kept my eye out for Christmastime science experiments that were a little more deliberate—and a little cleaner. Here are three good ones. You can use them with your kids during the cold winter months, or really any time it's raining and you need a good indoor activity.
It's one thing to look at a picture of an animal cell, with cytoplasm, organelles, mitochondria, and all its other parts. It's another thing to bake it and then eat it. If you use red, green, and white icing and different Christmas candies, you can put together a pretty complex representation of the basic building blocks of animal life. Take a look at the video to see our version. It was delicious!
Put a long piece of string through a straw and tie the ends to two chairs, doorknobs, or other supports across the room from each other. Blow up a balloon, pinch the end shut, and tape it to the straw with the inflated part toward the middle of the room. Let go and see how fast the rocket goes for a great lesson in thrust. Try out different shapes and sizes of balloon to see how they affect the straw rocket.
Mix a handful of basil seeds in a bowl with a box of corn starch. Pour in two and a half cups of water with the food coloring of your choice mixed in. Knead the mixture with your hands for five minutes, making sure you break up any big clumps of seeds. Slime away! But make sure you store it in a sealed container in the refrigerator when you're done. Your slime should last for about a week.
Melinda Gates is an American businesswoman and philanthropist. She is co-founder of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.