Tag Archives: science

Fun with Dry Ice – Science for Toddlers


When our grocery order comes from AmazonFresh, there’s usually a couple chunks of dry ice in with the frozen items. That offers great opportunities for fun science play. We have played with regular ice too, teaching the difference between solid, liquid, and gas. Our first game with dry ice was a few days later, where I explained that dry ice goes straight from solid to gas. Yes, you can use the word “sublimate” if your toddler likes big words like mine does. That day, we just put the dry ice outside in the sun, and watched it steam. Then added water to accelerate the process.

The next game was just pouring water droplets onto the dry ice – it gathers into balls and rolls off. I’m sure someone else could explain the science of this….

And a close-up:

The next time, we added food color to our water. Made blue water droplets, which was fun. But even better – after we stopped playing, we flipped over the dry ice – the blue water had all frozen to the underside of the dry ice.


We wondered what happens when you put dry ice in a baby bottle… We put in dry ice and little water. It turns out the hole in the nipple releases some of the gas and lets a little water escape, but not enough – the pressure was building quickly and I was worried the nipple would break or fly off (never put dry ice in a completely closed container – it could explode!), so I unscrewed it, and discovered this sound effect… After a couple minutes of playing with it, my husband calls downstairs, saying “What is that noise??? Is it the dog??”

The next time, we put dry ice in a sippy cup with a straw. We added a little water, then screwed on the lid – As the vapor expands, it forces the water out the straw, making a great little geyser. Which was completely unexpected the first time (though I now realize I could have predicted it) but VERY funny!

But then, even better, add bubble solution or bubble bath to the water. (We liked the results better with bubble bath.) So, put the dry ice in. Pour in a little bubble bath. Pour in a little water, and seal the lid. You can see our fountain in the video at the top of this post…. followed by lots of bubbles.

Here’s what happens if you don’t screw the lid on all the way.

And when you leave the lid off and let your toddler play with bubbles while you clean the kitchen:

And the latest experiment? Dry ice, water, and bubbles in a sippy cup.

As we play, I talk about the solid ice turning into gas. And I talk about surface tension with the bubbles. I’m starting to give science vocabulary.

But, this isn’t about drilling in science ideas so in 15 years my kid can go to MIT. It’s about having fun together, and laughing, and experiencing science hands-on. Learning that the word “science” means FUN, discovery, experimentation, and observation.

So, where do you get dry ice? I hear you can get it at most grocery stores, ice cream shops, Walmarts… There are dry ice directories on line but I suspect those are for larger quantities. For home use, you only need a little. One 2 inch by 2 inch square can last for 15 – 20 minutes of bubble play. Learn more here about how to get it:¬†http://www.wikihow.com/Buy-Dry-Ice

Safety note: It’s really important to explain to your toddler that they MUST NOT touch the dry ice, because it will “burn” their fingers!! It is -100 degrees Fahrenheit! Treat it with the same caution you would treat a hot frying pan. I use kitchen tongs to handle it and point out the importance of doing so.

Are you a parent of a 3 – 6 year old in the Seattle area? Come join our Family Inventors’ Lab! Are you a parent or educator anywhere who wants ideas for STEM enrichment for young children? Check out my blog: www.InventorsOfTomorrow.com.

You can lead a child to an idea, but you can’t make him drink it in…

My 3 year old is crazy about planets. He talks about the solar system continuously. We read lots of books about planets, and watch videos of science shows. In doing this, he gets exposed to lots of other assorted science concepts.

Yesterday he was talking about solids, liquids, and gas. Today, as I was unloading the dishwasher, he was stacking plastic cups, saying “this one’s solid, this is a liquid, this is a gas.” I tried to tell him they were all solids.

Then, I had a sudden flare of inspiration. I grabbed a pot, and told his I was going to put some solid water in the pot. I asked him what solid water was, and he knew that was ice and that we kept that in the freezer.

So, I scooped up a bunch of ice, dumped it in the pot, and asked if we should turn the solid water into liquid water. He liked that idea, so I put it on the stove and sat him next to it (with safety warnings, of course!). We watched the ice melt, and talked about how solid water was changing to liquid water. Then it boiled and we talked about liquid water changing to gas water and spreading out through the room (yes, the new word I used with my three year old today was ‘dissipate.’)

We threw in more ice so we had solid, liquid, and gas all in the pot at the same time. .

We repeated this several times, having a great time together. We talked about it, I was sure he understood it. I was feeling like Genius Mama!

After our experiment, he went right back to playing with his plastic cups, saying “this one’s solid, this is a liquid, this is a gas.”

With my first child, I would have been so discouraged. I would have gone from feeling like Genius Mama to feeling like Foolish Mama. I would have thought that because he went back to the same game that he had learned nothing from our little experiment.

But now, with child # 3, and many years of learning about parenting, and learning about how children learn as their brains develop, I’m still feeling good about our experiment.

Did I manage to completely teach my child all there is to know about states of matter in one ten minute game so that he’ll understand and apply it for the rest of his life? Nope.

But, did we have fun? Yep. Did he see that we can explore ideas together that he has heard about in books? Yep. Did he see, and understand in the moment, that ice turns to water and then to steam when you heat it? Yep. Did he learn, at least in the moment, that you can call ice solid water, what we normally just call water is liquid water, and steam is water as a gas? Yep. With the plastic cups, did he show that he understands things can be sorted into three categories of matter? Yep. Some day he’ll get that plastic cups are solids. He’s got plenty more years to figure that out.

The best part? We had some fun, engaged quality time together. And there was no mess to clean up when we were done!


Recently, I posted about a theory of different types of intelligence. Toddlers’ brains are in such an active state of development that by exposing them to a broad variety of experiences, we can help them develop across the range of intelligence types.

Penn State Extension offers some fabulous handouts – designed for childcare workers, but appropriate for parents too – on ways to help toddlers build skills in various areas.

Mathematical & Scientific Thinking: http://bkc.psu.edu/HO_MIL_NurtingLearning_MathSci1.pdf

Language & Literacy: http://bkc.psu.edu/HO_MIL_NurtingLearning_Lang1.pdf

Arts & Creativity: http://bkc.psu.edu/HO_MIL_NurtingLearning_Art1.pdf

Play & Music: http://bkc.psu.edu/HO_MIL_NurtingLearning_Play1.pdf