Fireworks! Color Science Activity for Kids

Erupting Colors Science Activity for Kids

Did you know you could create such beauty with milk, dish soap, and watercolors?

Not me.

This is a color science activity called “erupting colors” from MaryAnn Kohl’s Science Arts book. I don’t own the book, but clearly need to. We repeated this activity over and over (and over). I thought it looked a bit like fireworks going off, so it seemed especially appropriate for  Independence Day weekend.

I’m sure you will want to try this too. Right?

I would even if I didn’t have kids!

Fireworks Color Science Activity for Kids

Milky Fireworks Science Experiment for Kids


Milky Fireworks Science Experiment for Kids

The first step is to pour a shallow layer of milk over the bottom of the pan. Then drop food coloring or liquid watercolors onto the surface of the milk. This is beautiful just by itself!

Milky Fireworks Science Experiment for Kids

Finally, drop some dish soap in the center of a large drop of color or two.

Milky Fireworks Science Experiment for Kids

Watch as the surface erupts and the color dances around! This part was so fast, yet so magical, that we had to repeat the experiment several times.

Milky Fireworks Science Experiment for Kids

Here’s what MaryAnn says about the science aspect of it:

Milk contains water and fat. These two substances do not mix well. Even though the milk looks like one, it is really separate water and fat. Detergent is a substance that will mix with water or fat. When detergent is dropped into milk, one end of the molecule attaches to fat in the milk, and the other end attaches to the water. This causes a boiling effect.

Now I just came across another version of this color science experiment by chance yesterday at Our Best Bites, a cooking blog no less. They used a toothpick dipped in dish soap. We’ll have to try that technique next time!

Want more science? Here’s my current collection of fave artful kids science experiments

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I have a question for you: I am part of a co-op preschool and we recently got some feedback about using food in our crafts and experiments. This person feels that it is disrespectful to waste food in these kinds of activities.
We’re trying to be respectful of this person’s feelings, while still providing learning experiences for the children at school. We make our own playdough (flour, salt, drink mix powder), and we do cooking projects (which sometimes don’t get eaten), but we’re trying to avoid wasting food items.
What do you think? Are we limiting ourselves with this policy? I do hate to waste, but are we missing something by not making potato prints, art projects with pasta or playing with milk?

I just bookmarked something similar at Steve Spangler: I was curious if our ecologically friendly dish soap would work but it looks like yours did. :) We also made his gak/slime recipe with Elmer’s and Borax the other day–very fun. I like that he has the scientific explanations right there.
Someone mentioned white carnations in food coloring on another post…we did that last week (splitting some stems) with mixed success. My son has a science book that suggests using fountain pen ink. I think we’ll try it again with the Queen Anne’s Lace that is so abundant around here this time of year.

Kelli, my son is gluten intolerant (and I have celiac). When our school fair decided to use dried beans and pasta at the arts & crafts table, I made sure he knew to go nowhere near it. That’s something else to consider when using food items as arts & crafts items. Presumably you know if any of your students have allergies, but it’s still something to consider.
I think it’s a balance. I hate to see pasta used as a craft item anyway, because a bag of pasta equals dinner for some families. I *do* think it’s disrespectful. Using a couple of potatoes or apples for prints, I’m personally more comfortable with that. Are there situations in which this person would be okay with it? In Young at Art Susan Striker says, “There is no need for you to waste food in order to [make prints]. The discarded stems of carrots, broccoli, and other vegetables may be saved and later put to use…”
Hope it’s okay I responded to your question too. ;)

Jean – love the experiment! Thanks for the post! As for the food/art discussion, I appreciate MaryAnn Kohl’s comments. I lean strongly toward a no food use in art/science. With that said, there are exceptions and there are also times where a discussion WITH children as to why we are/not using food type items is valuable :)

We never do this in school because I send the instructions home. That way every child gets to try it first, rather than waiting their turn. It’s such a wonderful surprise to see the colors erupt and swirl; I want every child to experience that amazing, “look-what-I-did” feeling.
As for the food in art controversy, I try not to use food in art or science projects, IF there’s another way to do it. So we don’t do potato prints, because there are other things we can carve up to do similar prints (styrofoam, for instance.) We don’t collage with pasta or beans, because there are so many other things to collage with. In this case (the erupting colors), I can’t think of anything that would substitute for whole milk.

I’m amazed at this controversy! It’s estimated that 8.3 million tons of food are thrown away every year in the UK, an average of £680 per year for a family, about 25% of what is bought is thrown away. I know that every little helps, but a little pasta, a potato or a small amount of milk to do an educational / craft activity is a drop in the ocean if we’re still throwing food out week after week. Also, have you seen how much craft paper, half used bottles of paint, screwed up tissue paper etc. is thrown out by the average primary school every year? I’m all for teaching children about the value of resources, and the importance of not wasting food when there are starving children, but I don’t consider that using it to explore art and other materials is wastage. I would be happy to donate to a charity helping the starving every time I use food for art, and teach my children about it in that way.

I write books for Gryphon House (as well as my own company Bright Ring Publishing), and Gryphon House forbids ANY kind of food in their art or craft activities, though they allow flour in playdough for some reason, but no beans, rice, pasta for collage, no potato prints, etc. … for all the reasons you mention. They feel that when we have starving people in the world, we should not waste food. I’m a bit more flexible about using food for art because it offers so many intriguing experiences. I believe it’s a choice each person must make for herself.

I visited the version and have to say that the toothpick idea works really well! Your readers should hop over there and see how the photos relate the idea with a toothpick dipped in detergent dipped into the colorful dots of food coloring.

In this link you can find a video showing how the toothpick works. My children absolutely love it. Glad to read that finally science and arts got friends at your place :)

I agree that using food is really not a big issue – as you say it’s just another example of a disparity in resources, but as such no worse than any other sort of art supply. For instance, styrofoam is made from oil, which is a scarce finite resource (so is food, but at least food is renewable), I’d far rather use an apple that would otherwise fall off my tree and rot.

I was more thinking about the hungry kids in *this* country when I mentioned that a bag of pasta equals dinner for some families. The number of children who are hungry in my state (Rhode Island) is staggering (we are food bank supporters and get the statistics, mailings, and newsletters, and I read them all). That’s why I fall on the side of balance, as I originally said. I don’t necessarily think of it in terms of wastefulness–I’m more thinking of the child who may be hungry at school and is asked to do a craft with food. If I put myself in her shoes (or her parents’) I can’t help but think it’s got to be an uncomfortable place to be.

I’ve thought a little about this issue before, specifically when making bean bags for Craft Hope a while ago. The bags were being made as teaching tools, and sent to orphanages in Liberia. Not only was it disrespectful to use rice or beans as bag filling for children who had experienced starvation, even sawdust had the potential for attracting pests and vermin. The bean bags needed to be filled with beads or gravel. I used fishtank gravel, personally.
I’ve also come across students in my classes who have gluten allergies, so I check before making my homemade play dough, and have a tiny stash of gluten-free dough if I need it.
I don’t use food as art often with my 2.5 year old yet, because he still puts things in his mouth and I don’t like to blur the line between food and art supplies with the under-3 crowd. It’s tempting, though, to use food because I think of it as “natural” and therefore safe with little kids, this is why I make my own play-dough, it seems safer knowing what all the ingredients are and that it’s not chock-full of chemicals and dyes.
I think in light of this conversation, in the future I’ll try to respectfully limit (but not elimanate) using food as art material, and make sure I donate an equal amount of whatever we use to our local food pantry. I’ll also make sure I discuss why we limit food art with both my classes and my family.

Agreed! It’s an interesting discussion. makes me wonder, At what point does art or science become a waste of resources?

I’m with Mel – I’m a bit surprised at the controversy about using a little bit of food in the name of teaching our children about art and science. Personally, I think it’s more about the disparity of money and resources in different cultures rather than wasting food, per se. If you buy art supplies (or iphones or whatever) you are using money that could be used to buy food. How is it fundamentally different? The small amounts of food that we use for science experiments or art would not get sent to starving children in another country. I agree that we need to think about and address poverty and hunger, but don’t know that this is the way to do it.
I’m curious to hear what others think.

We love this project!!!! When we are having an off kind of day, my son will always ask to do the “milk project”. We have played around with different milks to see how each reacts, so far heavy whipping cream is the house favourite. Colours explode for a really long time and create intensely beautiful patterns.

Forgot to mention that we use q-tips dipped in the dish soap instead of the toothpicks mentioned because that is what we have around. They work really well because you have control over where the soap is going.

Lovely project — will have to give it a try! Wanted to thank you for, at some point in time on this blog, mentioining the Japanese writer Banana Yoshimoto as one of your favourites. A Japanese friend of mine who admires your blog was so kind as to give me her stories “Kitchen” and “Moonlight Shadow” and I was touched to the core. Such beautiful writing that saw me looking most pensive while sitting on Prague trams reading. It´s proving to be an existentialist summer –just saw Lars von Trier´s film about the end of the world yesterday, Melancholia. Children stop us being too existentially minded, thankfully, so I´ll end on a totally different note and wish you a relaxing summer making art with your children! thanks for blogging, Ellen

We tried this project this morning, and my daughter (almost 3) loved it, but I was a little surprised by the lack of eruptions. Then I realized later that they might have lacked some power because we used skim milk. No fat! We will definitely try this again with higher-fat milk! Also, the project did end with my daughter pouring and mixing everything into a brown sloppy goup in the pan, but if that’s what she wanted to do, then great!

gracious was that ever fun!!! thank you so much for the idea. justin and nathan LOVED this. we all loved watching the “erupting” colors. and it was super easy (set up and clean up) which made mama love it a whole lot too. thx!

Geez, lol, I love your blog! I teach kindergarten and love the ideas for good science projects … or just fun things to do. I was thinking that this experiment could be fun to do with the light table. I will have to experiment to see if we can do it with something less opaque than milk.
But, either way, thanks for the inspiration!

I totally agree with Mel’s comment….. No one wants to be wasteful and its not as if not using food for art gets said food into the hands of those who need it most….Children need to learn about Art and creating and sometimes food products are simply more readily available and more cost affective for those purchasing…. there are plenty of ways to teach children about hunger and aiding those in need…. taking small children to work in food banks and soup kitchens at holidays and collecting food during food drives around the holidays solves this food or no food for art…
Now just a gran doing fun stuff with my granddaughter – but this after a life time of being a girls scout leader- where plenty was done to teach girls about others in need and how to be of service, of running our local pre school library program where often food and art collided we always incorporated food for those in need as well….. one need not cancel out the other…..

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