My kids are currently playing outside. Like a lot of kids, they love being outside, getting dirty, and exploring the world. Kids are natural-born scientists -- they are so curious about how the world works and they love to experiment. So why not merge their outdoor playtime with a little bit of learning? After all, learning doesn't have to happen in a classroom.
I'm always on the hunt for new ideas, so I asked a bunch of super smart moms I know -- including some actual scientists -- for their best backyard science ideas. Please note that some parental supervision is required for some of these awesome ideas!
"The best $10 we ever spent was buying magnifying glasses for the kids. My daughter likes to hunt for bugs, and then she draws pictures of them in her little notebook. Apparently we have about 1,000 ladybugs in our yard. And three of them are named Fred." -- Amanda K., Ackworth, Iowa
"We ordered owl pellets online, and my kids like to dissect them. Given that owl pellets are basically freeze-dried owl puke, I'm glad they're doing that outside. I'm a wildlife biologist, and dissecting owl pellets is something I remember doing and loving when I was a kid. I still like it now!" -- Suzie T., Saint Paul, Minnesota
"Having a garden is a great long-term science project. The kids plant the seeds and they are so into watching how the plants grow, checking for bugs, and adding in compost. In fact, making compost in the backyard is also a great project." -- Olive D., Kentwood, Michigan
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"How can you talk about science projects and not mention the all-time classic? VOLCANO! You can make your own or buy a kit. Always a good time." -- Leslie J., Tucson, Arizona
"We are doing an ongoing experiment to find the best homemade bubble mix. We look up recipes online and we have a chart going with categories like biggest bubbles, easiest to make, and that kind of thing." -- April L., Norfolk, Virginia
"Our biggest success last summer was to set up a solar oven in the backyard on a really sunny day. We made a fried egg! You can make your own (instructions [are] online, naturally). This is the nerdy fun you have when you have two engineers for parents." -- Tammy T., Las Cruces, New Mexico
"If you can handle attracting ants, this can be fun! We set out three different dishes: one with sugar, one with soda, and one with mushy fruit and made predictions about which would attract more ants most quickly. Tip -- do this far away from your house." -- Kelli S., Saint Paul, Minnesota
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"My kids actually like to help me weed, and as an environmental scientist, I count that as science! They're into finding the longest worms, figuring out which plants have the biggest roots, and looking at the other bugs in the dirt. I do have to watch them, though, or else they pull out plants I want to keep." -- Lucy P., Dodge City, Kansas
"A really simple one for little kids is to have them pick out a few shirts in different colors and then to put them out in the sun. Let them sit for a while and then you can see different things like which feels hotter, which attracted more bugs, that kind of thing." -- Anne C., Saint Paul, Minnesota
"If you can handle the cleanup, experiments with gravity can be fun. We get on the roof (safely!) and experiment with different things to check for the splat factor. I recommend starting with small fruits and working your way up. Watermelon is a great grand finale." -- Beth T., Saint Paul, Minnesota
Exploding watermelon? I know my kids would be interested in that!