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4 Fun Winter Activities for Homeschool Scientists by Jenny Wise from SpecialHomeEducator.com. (Links in text to American resources)

It is not uncommon for high school and middle school aged students to want to be scientists when they grow up, especially when they have role models who encourage their curiosity and support their experiments and inquiries.

Winter, when cold temperatures keep students inside, is a great time of the year for homeschool parents to present math and science games, lessons, and experiments to future STEM professionals. After all, these students should have a solid knowledge of physics, chemistry, and biology to lay the foundation for future learning and an eventual science-based career when they grow up. That’s why I have rounded up my favorite science-based knowledge-boosting activities for wannabe homeschool scientists:

1. Waterproofing a Roof

One of the most common real-world science applications are the fields of building and engineering. Engineers need a firm understanding of geometry and physics to create strong, practical structures. They’re constant problem-solvers, and often have to adapt older ideas to suit evolving needs. The Waterproofing a Roof lesson will require all of these skills.

Start with a discussion about the different shapes and materials used in roofing. Discuss how important it is for the roof to suit its environment’s climate; a flat roof may collapse under the weight of heavy snow, for example.

Use a plastic storage container (at least 10 x 25 cm) that will act as a house. Next, provide building materials -- cardboard, newspaper, twigs, leaves, grass, etc. Then ask your student(s) to first plan, then execute building a roof for their containers.

Test the roof by placing the plastic containers in a sink or bucket and using a measuring cup to pour water over them. When the experiment is over, discuss what materials and shapes worked best and why.

2. Indoor Gardens

Few children enjoy sitting down to a science textbook, but winter gargening projects can be a great way to teach kids about biology in a fun and engaging way. Moreover, spending time around all those green plants is a great way to alleviate the cabin fever that can creep in with the winter cold.

First, pick a window (or several!) that gets plenty of sun. Lots of plants can be grown from basic kitchen scraps, kitchen scraps water, and sunlight: avocado seeds, carrot tops, and sweet potatoes. Caring for the plants and charting their progress can bring a nice sense of routine to a chaotic holiday season. Plus, there are lot of complementary activities and conversations that watching these growing plants can facilitate!

3. Bouncing Balls
While older students may no longer play with bouncy balls, they will enjoy making bouncing polymer balls bouncing polymer balls and experimenting to see how various chemical compositions affect the balls’ characteristics. The materials needed for this lesson for wannabe scientists include borax, cornstarch, school glue (Elmer’s white glue will make an opaque ball, or blue or clear school glue will make a translucent ball), warm water, food coloring, measuring spoons, spoons, small plastic cups or containers, pens, timers, rulers, and plastic baggies.

First, students should label the cups: borax solution and ball mixture. Next, pour two tablespoons warm water and 1/2 teaspoon borax powder into the borax solution cup, add food coloring, and stir to dissolve the borax. Next, ask students to pour one tablespoon of glue into the ball mixture cup and add 1/2 teaspoon of the borax solution and 1 tablespoon of cornstarch. Do not stir, but allow the ingredients to interact for about 10-15 seconds and then stir to fully mix them.

When students no longer can stir the mixture, have them remove it from the cup and begin making the ball with their hands. When the ball is less sticky and solidifies as they knead it, bounce it. When finished, store the bouncy ball in a sealed Ziploc bag. It is important for students to wash their work area, wash their work area utensils, and hands when the activity is complete.

To make this a true chemistry experiment, students should make observations while creating their bouncy ball, including the diameter of the ball, how sticky it was, how long it took to solidify, and how high it bounces. Then, students can experiment with the ratio between glue, cornstarch, and borax amounts and record those observations for their new bouncy balls.

4. Online Brain Games
The last thing any parent wants is for their students to spend even more time staring at a computer screen. But in winter when bad weather keeps students indoors, occasionally some time with a computer game can be a great way to spark their interest and get their minds moving. There are tons of great brain ames brain games available for free online. Many of them help students develop skills that will expand their scientific thinking.

Online games allow students to work on their math skills, deductive reasoning, memory, and more. If you don’t have enough computers or handheld devices readily available so that all students can be occupied with a game, board games work just as well.

Science-based activities are extremely important for kids who want science-based careers when they grow up. Fun hands-on activities involving physics, chemistry, and biology that can be done indoors and mental fitness games that help students strengthen skills needed to be good scientists offer ways for teachers (and parents) to engage students during winter.

Jenny created Special Home Educator as a forum for sharing her adventures in homeschooling and connecting with other homeschooling families. She chronicles her family’s ups and downs in homeschooling on her site, SpecialHomeEducator.com.