Five fun outdoor science experiments

Get kids learning outside

Get the kids involved with some fun science experiments outside and keep them busy with our simple navigation activities.

1. Jar Compass

A great way to get the kids involved with navigation this summer is to encourage them to make their own compass using a jar. This 'do it at home' guide will get them enthusiastic about navigation and will be the perfect activity to keep them occupied whilst you are busy planning your walking and cycling routes, and they can even try it out in the garden!

This experiment uses the earth’s magnetic field to locate northern and southern fields. This is done by magnetising a needle so that it aligns with the magnetic forces of the earth - turning to point north or south.

What you will need

1. Card, 2. Pencil, 3. String, 4. Clear Jar, 5. Needle, 6. Magnet.

​How to do it

First of all you need to magnetise the needle. To do this, rub the needle multiple times with a magnet. The more you do this the more charge the needle will have.

Take your jar and a piece of card and cut out a square of card small enough to fit into the jar. Make sure it is the right size by gently placing it in the jar with the tops of your fingers, checking that it doesn’t touch the sides or the bottom of the jar.

Take a piece of string and tie it around the centre of a pencil, leaving about 30cm hanging down. Take the other end of the string and tie it to a small, square piece of card. To do this gently poke a hole through the top of the card with the needle and thread the end of the string through this hole. In the centre of the card push the needle into place – this will act as your director.

Next, gently balance the pencil on top of the jar and allow the string hang down into the jar from the pencil. Do not let the card touch the bottom of the jar. The kids can take this around the house or out in the garden and practice finding north, south, east and west. The needle will always align itself so that it points north and south – just the same as a compass.

Compass Beginners guide to using a compass

2. Simple navigation for kids – find your location.

This is an exciting little exercise to get children started with using a map and exploring their surroundings. It is a great way to get children familiar with plotting points on maps and will encourage them to be enthusiastic about navigation. Encourage them to try it on their OS Map when you visit somewhere new or are off on holiday in the UK.

What you will need

1. An OS Map of your local area, 2. A compass, 3. A ruler and a pencil, 4. A protractor.

How to do it

First of all open up your OS Map and randomly pick an object on the map. This can be a tree, building, church etc…

Next, find north on your map – the top of the map is north but if you are having trouble then use a compass.

Using your protractor measure the angle between your chosen object and the north of the map. Use a pencil to mark on points if you get stuck. Draw a line at this angle from the top of the map to the bottom, making sure it goes through the object.

Do this again for another object. Where the two lines meet is your current location.

Map reading guides for kids

3. Make your own footprint

Footprints are fascinating things. They show where humans, animals and even dinosaurs walked and can provide information about the behaviours of different animals and species. Some palaeontologists dedicate their whole lives to studying the footprints of dinosaurs so why not have a go at finding and making your own.

What you will need

1. Plaster, 2. Water, 3. Brush, 4. A large cup.

How to do it

Use your brush and pretend to be like the real palaeontologist by brushing away excess soil and sediment from your footprint. You want to make sure you get a nice clean footprint.

Fill your large cup half two thirds with plaster and two thirds with water and mix together. Once the two have mixed and all the water has been absorbed carefully pour the plaster into the footprint making sure it covers all of the footprint. Leave it to set, this may take a while (around half an hour).

Once it is fully set, carefully pull the plaster out of the soil, revealing the details of your footprint below. You can now compare the moulded footprint to your original one.

4. Make your own rainbow

Rainbows are rare, special things which can only be seen in a mixture of sunshine and rain. But they are in fact extremely easy to create yourself. Every child loves to see a rainbow so why not get them excited with this simple little science experiment.

What you will need

1. Sunshine, 2. Glass of water, 3. Piece of white paper.

How to do it?

Fill a glass or clear bowl with water and place it on a south facing window sill (use your homemade compass from above if you don’t know).

Place the sheet of white paper on the floor in front of the table and the window. Use an old air freshener bottle to spray water onto the window. When the light shines through the window and the tiny water droplets it should create a rainbow on the piece of paper.

You may have to move the piece of paper backwards and forwards and adjust it so that the light hits the paper at the right spot. Enjoy your rainbow!

5. Make your own pressed flowers

The UK has beautiful foliage and flowers most of the year round, so #GetOutside and go flower picking. This easy guide to pressing flowers allows you to leave the flowers for weeks or even months on end before to press and then getting them out – allowing them to be enjoyed all year round. Here's a quick, easy guide.

What you will need

1. Books, 2. Old newspapers, 3. Fresh flowers.

How to do it

First of all you need to #getoutside and go flower hunting. Look for the most colourful, beautiful and most interesting shaped petals you can on the flowers around your area – collect them up in a little bag.

Once home, take the heaviest books you can find and place a couple of sheets of newspaper over the book. Carefully place your flowers petal by petal out on the book before covering them with another couple of sheets of newspaper. Place another heavy book on top and repeat the process adding more petals to each layer. By the end you will have a pressing tower with layers of petals between each book.

Leave this for as long as you can (four weeks is the minimum). The longer you leave them the better the flowers will come out. Once the flowers are pressed then you can make a collage with them or use them as table confetti for parties.

More family friendly outdoor activity ideas

Edited: 24/02/2021