Invention Activities

Sending Signals

Before the telephone was invented, people had created other ingenious ways to communicate from one place to another. A series of bird calls, horn or whistle patterns, drums, flags, and even smoke were used to send messages. While all these methods had draw backs, they were used successfully for hundreds of years.

Try to invent an original way to send someone a message over a short distance. You might create a pattern of sounds to communicate from one floor in your house to another, or you might make your own simple pictures or banners to signal a friend across the yard or street, or perhaps a code based on hand patterns and body positions.

Alexander Graham Bell had hoped his invention would one day help hearing impaired people. How would communicating with flags be like using sign language? How are they different?

Examining Plant Parts

You will need
  • dried bean seeds, such as dried limas
  • two to four paper towels
  • one or two resealable plastic bags
  • water

This is a simple and interesting experiment for any age. Wet two paper towels. They should be saturated to their limit, but not beyond. Lay the paper towels one on top of the other, then fold them in half. Place one bean seed on the edge of the folded, wet towels. Roll up the seed inside the towels. Put the towels with the bean inside in a plastic bag and seal it shut. Set it in a warm, safe place.

As with any science experiment, it is good to have a backup in case the first one fails. You may want to create a second bag of seeds using the above procedure to help ensure that you have at least one seed that will sprout.

Each day, check each bean by carefully unrolling it. After a while the seed should sprout and begin to grow. Every time you check the seed, add a little water and be sure to place it back in the bag sealed tight. As the plant begins to grow, you can examine the stem, roots, and seedling leaves. Young children enjoy the miracle of growth and can learn the names of the basic plant parts.

Older children might enjoy using two or three different types of seeds to sprout and compare. Have them measure and record the growth of the plant stem and roots each day. Later they may like to pot their plants in a container with soil, or even transplant them in a garden.

Books for Children


Fun With Light

You will need

Take apart the flashlight or have someone take it apart for you. Remove the batteries, bulb, lens, and other simple to remove parts. Place the pieces in a shoe box or other container. Now put the flashlight back together so that it works.

Once the flashlight is together, have one person hide the everyday objects in plain view around a room that gets dark when the lights are out. Turn out the lights and hunt for the objects using the flashlight. After all the objects are found, wrap each object in aluminum foil. Have the person hide the foil wrapped objects in the same room again. Turn out the lights and hunt for the objects a second time.

Which objects took longer to find, the wrapped or unwrapped? Why?
How much longer does it take to find them?

Books for Children

Because reflections are a result of light bouncing off a surface these two books are particularly appropriate, as well as particularly fun. Children 4-10 are especially intrigued, but even older children can find themselves absorbed in creating new reflections.

Paper Bag Play

How many uses can you think of for a paper bag?

People create puppets and costumes from these bags. They have been used as cover from the rain or as wind socks. Make your own paper bag hand puppet. Perhaps you can make a puppet of Margaret Knight and her family then use them to tell her story of inventions.

Also try your own hand at inventing a new item from a paper bag. Can you create a paper bag hat, toy, or game?

Using only scissors, glue, and paper can you make a paper bag with a new shape or invent a paper bag intended to carry one specific item, such as a note book, umbrella, or a bottle of soda?

Making Plastic

Casein is a protein contained in milk, that when separated out, is similar to plastic. Casein is used to make plastics, paints, and glue. You can make your own casein and mold it into different shapes, but adult supervision is recommended.

You will need:

With an adultís help, heat the milk in the pan on low. Do not let the milk boil. Once the milk is warm, add the tablespoon of vinegar and stir over the heat until a white, rubbery material appears.

Remove the milk from the heat and pour it through the cheese cloth or strainer. If you have a strainer with large holes, try lining it with the cheese cloth. The liquid milk will run through the cloth or strainer, leaving the casein behind.

Now remove the casein from the strainer and mold it into different shapes with your hands. What makes this substance like plastic? How are they different?

Once you have some shapes you like, place them in a safe spot to dry. It will take a few days to dry completely. How has the casein changed? Is it similar to plastic in anyway now? You can use tempera paints or acrylic paints to decorate your shapes. What else could you make with casein?

Books for Children

Watching "Lift" In Action

The term "lift" describes the results of air rushing over the top of an object more quickly than it moves along the bottom of the object. The air pressure surrounding a still object is generally equal all around. Air that is moving across a surface does not exert as much pressure on that surface as still air.

A simple airplane wing (black) has a curved top surface and a flat bottom surface. The air that moves over the top surface (blue) has a greater distance to travel than the air moving along the bottom surface (red). This creates less pressure on the top surface, since the air is moving more quickly than it is along the bottom. This also means there is greater pressure on the bottom surface of the wing which produces "lift".

You will need

Use the markers or other coloring tools to make a design on the paper strip. Then hold one end of the strip in your hand, allowing the other end to droop down. Now blow across the top of the paper strip. The drooping end of the strip will lift up.

Books for Children

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