Science at the beach with waves

Having a day at the beach? Experiment with waves to learn about nature and science.

Waves roll into shore and often they are taken for granted. Have you ever really thought about how a wave works? Waves are something that many people see, but few understand how they work. With some directed questions, experiments and a little science, children (and the adults who work with them) can better understand this phenomenon. Here are some recommendations from Michigan State University Extension:

  1. Is the water that makes up a wave moving into shore? How could you check that out?
  2. Put an orange, apple or a stick in the water and watch how it moves. How long do you think it will take to move into the shore? Will it ever move into the shore? Is it moving left or right from where you placed it? Put different floating objects in the water and guess which will arrive on shore first. Why?
  3. Some people think that a wave of water moves continually into the shore. That is usually not the case. To demonstrate how a wave can move up and down, tie a bandana onto a jump rope and wiggle the rope up and down so it makes waves. The bandana will not move closer to one end of the rope.
  4. How much difference is there between waves? Have the children guess if the waves are moving into shore or away from shore. Using a stick or marking flag, note how far up the shore a particular wave moves. Write the time on the flag or a sticky note, and then label subsequent flags and try to determine if there is a pattern, or if the waves are random. Take notice of how much time there is between waves using a stopwatch. Further out into the water, you can note the height of each wave on a tall stick or flagpole with sticky notes or a waterproof marker.
  5. How would food coloring move in the water? While standing on a dock, put a few drops of food coloring in the water and watch how the color disperses. Did it move how you predicted?
  6. How strong is a wave? Put several objects on the beach where waves will reach it. Do you think the wave has enough energy to move it? Try using objects of different sizes and weights. See if there is anything a wave cannot move. Can you think of a creative way to harness this energy?
  7. What happens when waves collide? Make your own waves by splashing in the water. Can you “cancel out” a wave with your wave? Can you make an existing wave bigger by adding your energy to it?

Have fun exploring next time you visit the beach and set up some simple experiments to learn more about the energy of waves and science.

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