Learn the Water Cycle Through an Interactive Game

By Blog Editor Susan Wells

Recently at a Girl Scout overnight, the girls worked on earning a badge while playing a game about the Water Cycle. It’s hands-on, interactive and a great way to teach about water molecules and their journeys.

Water Cycle Game | Steve Spangler Science

The water cycle is usually portrayed in a circular diagram – water from the clouds precipitates or rains down on the land, the water runs into rivers and the ocean and evaporates back into cloud form. This is a simple explanation of how water travels. Water actually moves through several places or compartments water visits through its journey. The water molecules also may spend a long time or a very short time in a compartment.

For example, water is frozen into glaciers for hundreds of years, or travels in underground for a long time. For example, the Antarctic Bottom Water, the deep ocean water formed in the Antarctic, takes over 250 years to travel along the bottom of the Pacific Ocean before it resurfaces in the Aleutian Islands.

Animals and plants also move water. It is consumed, extracted and leaves during respiration, perspiration, excretion or evaporation.

Think of all of the places water is found and essential.

What You Will Need: 

Prep Time: 

  • Allow about 30 minutes or less to print out station signs, build cubes and sort beads. Once you have it built, the game is easy to pull out and play.

Time it Will Take to Play: 

  • About 15-20 minutes is a good amount of time for the water molecules to travel. 


Before playing the game, start out with a mini lesson in the water cycle and conservation. All of the water molecules on our planet are the original molecules. There is no way to get more water – the water on the earth just moves through different forms and locations but it does not grow or increase.

Water is always in motion – sometimes it moves quickly and other times it’s slow.

Water Cycle Game | Steve Spangler Science

Playing the Game 

Kids will become water molecules traveling through the water cycle and gain a strong understanding in the movement of water.

  1. Divide the students up into nine even groups. 
  2. Give each student a pipe cleaner with a loop at the bottom to hold the beads.
  3. Each group starts at one of the nine compartments of the water cycle – clouds, lakes, rivers, glaciers, groundwater, soil, ocean, plants, and animals. Each station has a sign, one color of beads, and the corresponding block.
  4. Students line up at each station and take a colored bead that represents that station. One at a time, each child rolls the dice.
  5. Depending on where the dice lands, the student will move to the next station. Not every roll will move the water molecule. For example, water molecules in glaciers can get stuck for awhile.
  6. Each time the dice is rolled, a bead is added to the pipe cleaner. If a water molecule gets stuck at the glacier for three rolls, three beads are added.
  7. For a twist, you can use Color Changing UV Beads at six of the stations. These beads will be white inside the classroom and turn color outside in sunlight. Students won’t see the colors representing some of the stations until they step outside with their bead stories.
  8. Have students also write the name of each station they land at and how they got there in their science notebooks.
  9. Continue the game until each student or water molecule has cycled about 10 times.
  10. Pipe cleaners can bend into bracelets for students to take home.

Water Cycle Game | Steve Spangler Science

After the game has ended, have some of the students share their unique journey. Did they make it through all nine stations? Did they move through one station more than once? Get stuck anywhere?

You can also discuss how water molecules may move in different situations. Have students practice acting out some of the motions water molecules make as they move. Snow and rain molecules stick together, while vapor molecules move alone. Cold molecules move slow, while warm ones move faster.

This game was originated by NOAA on their education page. They offer downloads of game cube layouts, station signs and full instructions.

Homemade Juice Bottle Rocket Launcher

All those juice boxes, pouches and bottles hold a little science inside – give them a squeeze, force the air out and shoot the straw at your sister. The only problem is the larger hole around the straw allows the air to leak out and the straw doesn’t travel far.

So grab a few straws, some modeling clay and an empty Kool-Aid juice bottle to make a launcher that will shoot that straw across the room while demonstrating Newton’s Third Law of Motion.

Continue reading Homemade Juice Bottle Rocket Launcher

Make Your Own Zoetrope Cartoon Animator

Things aren’t always as we see or perceive them. There are many ways to trick your eyes with optical illusions and 3D images. A fun trick to play on your eyes is with a zoetrope. This classic tool turns multiple images into animation.

Continue reading Make Your Own Zoetrope Cartoon Animator

How to Reduce Homework Stress

By Blog Editor Susan Wells

My girls returned to school last week, and although it was nice to return to a regular schedule, I couldn’t help the knot in my stomach. A return to school means homework, frustration, missed assignments, confusion and a few tears. In this fast-paced world with a million distractions, it’s hard to stay on top of after school activities, play dates and homework assignments.

I swear this year will be different. I’m putting a homework plan in place and sticking to it. Here are a few tips on how to keep homework in check and at least dial down the stress.

Tips to Reduce Homework Stress | Steve Spangler Science

1. Keep a family due date calendar in a public area in your house. Write assignments and due dates on it. Get crazy if you want and color code each child or have separate calendars for each one.

2. Designate a place for homework. Give each child a folder and have them keep them together in a shared area. On-going assignments, research and more won’t get lost and you won’t spend time trying to collect everything.

3. Check backpacks every night for teacher notes and assignments. If I had a dollar for every time my kid answers “no” to the “do you have homework” question, I’d be rich. I always take a peek in the backpack and tend to find forgotten assignments or papers stuffed into pockets. Don’t always take them at their word. With older children, give them the responsibility of checking the backpack thoroughly every evening.

4. Schedule a homework time at the same time every day. This isn’t ground breaking or new, but it is important to find a quiet time when you and your child can focus on school work. It’s hard when soccer is on Monday at 5:00 p.m., piano Tuesday at 3:30 p.m., but work to find a time of day where distractions are limited. Obviously, parents should not be doing homework, but offer a resource for proof reading, finding math mistakes or giving guidance. It’s also helpful if you read a book, work on the computer or do something productive during that time. Then everyone is working and focusing at the same time and the television is off. Let your child decide what time and location is best for them.

5. Talk to the teacher if your child has difficulties routinely completing assignments. If your child is consistently getting overly frustrated or requiring continual hand holding to finish homework every night, investigate the why. Ask your child why they are struggling with the assignment – did they not understand the directions? Is the assignment too hard or above their level? Or did they not understand the skill when it was taught in class? Work on finding the basis for the frustration and then talk to the teacher. If a child is completely lost or confused about an assignment, write a note to the teacher explaining the issue and ask that they explain it again and give your child an extension on the due date.

6. Have a friend or teacher resource to double check assignments. Once again, if I had a dollar for every time my kids tell me they can’t remember how many pages they need to work on, or the due date or how many questions to answer…I have both of my girls pair up with a homework buddy. This is a friend, who is just as responsible or more so than my child to call when those questions pop up. Or encourage your child’s teacher to post assignments to a class Twitter account, website, blog or app.

 7. Refuse to get upset about homework and give your child an opportunity to earn free time. It happens in homes everywhere, every night. Screaming matches between parent and child over homework. No one likes to do something they don’t enjoy, but it is best to get the ugly out of the way and then move on to something satisfying. Homework is usually not enjoyed, so don’t expect your child to jump for joy when you tell them to turn off the television and get going on that math worksheet. Has your child ever responded with “thanks mom for yelling at me, I’m really ready now to sit down and focus on my homework.” Instead, calmly set parameters for your child and then step back., “From now on, homework is going to be on you. I’m not going to yell or get upset. You are capable of this work, but I am available to answer questions. If you calmly put in the time needed to complete your assignments, you will earn time on electronics. If you don’t, then you won’t be able to use the electronics in this house. Either way is fine by me.” Allow your child to make the decision about getting homework completed. If they make the decision not to complete homework, a price is paid at school and at home. This may not go over well in the beginning, but standing strong and calmly should turn things around.

8. Determine if your child is receiving excessive homework. The National PTA and the National Education Association endorse a 10-minute rule. The maximum amount of homework should not exceed 10 minutes per grade level per night. That is, a 1st-grader should have no more than 10 minutes of homework, a 6th-grader no more than 60 minutes, and a 12th-grader no more than two hours. If your child is taking longer than the recommended guidelines, look at the amount of work and their pace. If it seems excessive, talk to the teacher and let them know how long your child spends each night.

9. Don’t over schedule your kids. If your kids go from school to activities to homework after 9:00 p.m. and then bed somewhere around 10, stop and look at the balance in your lives. We have a tendency to schedule every minute to give our children a wide range of experiences and skills. The kids pay the price when they miss out on having free time to play and imagine and let go. It’s been said before, but strive to find a balance between school, homework, activities and down time.

10. Stay in touch with the teacher. Your child, their teacher and you, their parent form a team in your child’s education. Don’t be afraid of reaching out to the teacher and staying on top of your child’s progress. If the parent and teacher aren’t on the same page, the student will suffer. Share any concerns with the teacher and ask they they keep you in the loop.

Don’t look at this list of 10 and feel like it’s impossible. Pick a few topics and focus on those.  I can’t say I’m perfect in all of these areas. I struggled last year in helping my kids stay on top of their assignments and due dates. I took their word when they said they didn’t have homework. We had several panicked nights of trying to complete an assignment that was supposed to stretch over a few weeks. I also didn’t want to be THAT parent who constantly emailed and called the teacher. I tried to only touch base when things got really stressful. That was usually too late. Our principle encouraged me to stay on top of things this year with my child’s teacher. Don’t wait until it gets really bad – nip it in the bud before it has a chance to blow up.

What do you do to ease the homework stress?

Create Your Own Diary of a Worm and Raise Your Own Night Crawlers

By Blog Editor Susan Wells

We test and play with every product in our science toys catalog before selling them to our customers.During the month of August, we played with worms while learning more about their world in the Worm Vue Wonder.

Worm Science with the Worm Vue Wonder. Get Up Close & Personal with Worms | Steve Spangler Science

Worms are a perfect tool to teach all kinds science – dissect them in biology  and anatomy, throw them in a composter for ecology and conservation and observe them for earth science and geology.

The Worm Vue kit comes complete with a worm home, activity guide, anatomy and fact poster, worm cutout, magnifying glass, tomato seeds and seed planter. It also has coupon to receive 200 worms, food and dirt in the mail. The postage is an extra cost, or you can dig them up in your backyard. We purchased a cup of night crawlers from  a tackle shop. They were a little sleepy from hanging out in a tackle store fridge and took a few days to recover and burrow down into the dirt.

I had already filled the worm house with garden dirt and a layer of sand. The sand isn’t a part of the kit, but I thought it could be fun to see what the worms would do with a different layer.

Worm Science with the Worm Vue Wonder. Get Up Close & Personal with Worms | Steve Spangler Science

I took the worm house home for the weekend and let my daughters get acquainted with my slimy little friends. After they dug down into the dirt, it was hard to locate them. Over the course of a few weeks, we discovered tunnels and occasionally saw the worms sitting in them. We only had 15 worms, so it was more difficult to see very many. The more worms the better in this community.

I must admit, this isn’t the most exciting kit. Worms are amazing creatures, but not incredibly fascinating to watch. Raising worms requires patience and time to observe. If you are looking for an exciting and dynamic insect kit, try Antworks or Ladybug Land.

The worms may not be party bugs, but don’t give up on this kit. The activity guide comes with a ton of activities to do with your worms – test their sensitivity to light and colored light, their fertilizing abilities and physical characteristics. They are a great teaching tool for a classroom, homeschool or home lab.

Worm Science with the Worm Vue Wonder. Get Up Close & Personal with Worms | Steve Spangler Science

You can also use a plastic tub, plastic soda bottle or other see through container. Just be aware that worms are incredibly sensitive to light, so don’t leave your see through container in the sun. The Worm Vue Wonder comes with removable sides and top that black out the light and keep the worms happy. It also allows easy access to the worms for activities.

So what are you waiting for? Build a worm farm and get up close and personal with some worm friends.