The Summer Science Challenge

Banish the boredom and upgrade your summer!

By Camille Smithson

If there’s one thing that I love more than books, it’s science (outside of my family, of course). But what if we mix books and science to create fun, memory-making moments? Yes, please! Well, here are five books and challenges to complete with your family.

This challenge is perfect to cure summer boredom and is extra fun because it’s hands-on.

Disclosure: STEM is about problem solving and imagination. There isn’t only one way to do any of the challenges I’m presenting. Modify them as you see fit and let your children explore different approaches. Remember, it’s okay if your solution “glitches” a little.

The Three Little Javelinas by Susan Lowell

The Challenge:

Using materials from around your home, build three houses and then test their strength to endure the Big Bad Coyote—aka the hair dryer.

The Three Little Javelinas is a fun retelling of the classic story of the Three Little Pigs set in the southwestern desert. Having grown up in Arizona, I enjoyed the author’s clever way of utilizing a setting I love. Like in the classic tale, the three heroes of this story build houses of various strengths. Instead of a wolf, it’s a coyote looking for a pig dinner that comes knocking.

My kids wanted to go straight for the Legos, but I convinced them to look for new building materials. Instead, they used mini popsicle sticks, silicone cupcake liners, and wooden blocks. The best part was letting them “blow their houses down” with the hair dryer.

What materials will you use for your houses?

Snowmen at Work by Caralyn Buehner

The Challenge:

Build a snowman!

Before you tell me I’ve lost my mind, hear me out. I wouldn’t give you a challenge without a little bit of direction. You can make “snow” by mixing cheap shaving cream with baking soda! Spray as much baking soda as you would like into a bowl, then add baking soda until you have the right consistency. Then build your snowman! You can decorate your snowman as much or as little as you want. We chose to leave him snowy.

How will your snowman look?

Note: This challenge can be messy. I would recommend doing this on a cookie sheet or out back and wearing suitable clothes for creative messes.

After the Fall by Dan Santat

The Challenge:

Find a way to drop Humpty from the wall without breaking him.

Humpty Dumpty might be famous for falling off the wall, but that’s only half the story. After the Fall is an inspiring story that will encourage anyone to get back up, face their fears, and try again.

When I gave this challenge to my kids, they instantly wanted to put together elaborate egg drop contraptions and send Humpty flying off our deck. That idea sounds both fun and exciting, and if that’s the direction you want to take, I say go for it. But if not, I have a different idea for you.

Instead, I made hard-boiled eggs (which means less mess and makes for a great snack when the experiment is over). After personalizing our eggs with faces, we created a “wall” outside with a bench, ice tray, and sheet. I placed the ice tray on the bench and draped the sheet over both. The ice tray makes a convenient stand for multiple eggs. All of this is strictly cosmetic, to make it look like the eggs were sitting on a wall, the important part is that you have an adequate dropping distance.

Then, my kids had to decide on ways to soften the drop. They used pillows, blankets, grass, and wood chips. After each drop, we inspected our Humptys for any cracking. “Professor Humpty” (affectionately named by my oldest son) showed some cracking after a fall on wood chips. Finally, we dropped all the eggs onto the concrete, and sure enough, they all broke. But don’t worry, no eggs were wasted in this experiment (yum!)

What will you use to catch Humpty Dumpty’s fall?

Splat the Cat: I Scream for Ice Cream is based on the bestselling book by Rob Scotton

The Challenge:

Make ice cream!

Things get a little sticky when Splat and his class take a field trip to the ice cream factory. But, Splat and his friends take care of the mess and find Seymore with teamwork and hard work!

There are so many recipes for homemade ice cream available online and lots of ways to make it. Honestly, the sky is the limit!

We decided to make orange soda ice cream using 2 cups of orange soda and half a can (14 ounce) of sweetened condensed milk. (I split the standard recipe). We split the mixture into two-quart-sized zip lock bags and made ice cream in a bag.

To make ice cream in a bag, you need your ice cream recipe, two-quart-sized bags, two-gallon-sized bags, ice, salt, duct tape, and patience. I double up both sizes of bags to keep them from leaking and keep the ice cream from tasting like salt. Put the ice cream mixture in the double layer quart size bags, zip tight, and duct tape the top bag shut. Add some ice to the double-layered gallon bag, then add your ice cream bag and fill ice all around it. You will want to add some salt to the ice. Then shake.

A lot. More than you think you should. Keep shaking! Like in the book, this is an excellent opportunity for teamwork. My kids invented a “pass the potato” game with this activity. Each person shook it until they were tired, then tossed it to the next.

It will take some time, and your hands might get cold. We “glitched” this experiment and opened it too soon. (Oops!) To solve our soupy ice cream problem, we decided to pour the rest into a bowl and freeze it for four hours. The result wasn’t the same, but we were able to get our yummy treat with some mixing.

What kind of ice cream will you make?

Dragon Pox by Camille Smithson

The Challenge:

Build a balloon tower within five minutes.

Dragon Pox is the first of the Glitch Science Series, a series of middle-grade fantasy books where the characters learn engaging lessons from their glitches. This challenge comes straight from the story when Hayden returns to class after an adventure looking for his lost dragon in the school.

You will need ten balloons, masking tape, and at least one friend for this challenge. Remember, work together and move fast! When the timer goes off, everyone should let go of the balloons. If the tower tips, that’s okay—it is all for fun.

How tall will your tower be?

We hope you have a fantastic summer!

We sure had fun putting this summer challenge together, and I know your kids will too. Want to keep the magic going? Great news: any book can be an opportunity to invite your child to think like a scientist. Pick up new books from the library and let them discover ways to turn the story into a hands-on project. You’d be amazed at how fast that creativity will turn into hours of play.

Camille Smithson is the author of Dragon Pox, Book One in the Glitched Science Series. Stay tuned for more adventures through science!

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