Teaching kids about science with water balloons

Water balloons are a popular summer activity. With a few questions, you can use these fun toys to teach kids about science and engineering principles.

Water balloons are a fun part of summer. They provide a chance to get wet and cool off in the heat of the sun. But by asking some questions and doing a few experiments, it can also be a chance for kids to utilize their science skills while school is out.

The simplified scientific method of “guess --> experiment --> explain --> repeat” is more important than getting the correct answer. Here are some things to try out with your kids; remember before doing the experiment, you should have children guess (form a hypothesis) about the experiment results:

1. Do you think filled water balloons will float or sink in a pail of water? Why or why not? How about an empty water balloon? Can you do anything to make the balloon sink or float? Does the temperature of the water in the balloon or the pail matter? What would happen if you added salt or sugar to the water in the pail or the balloon?
2. Is a completely full balloon more or less likely to pop than a not so full balloon? Do air bubbles in the balloon make any difference in how easy the balloon will pop?
3. Is one color balloons more likely to pop than others? Why or why not?
4. Will a water balloon pop if held over a candle? Why or why not? CAUTION: Adults should help with the experiments involving flame and give close supervision.
5. Light a small piece of tissue paper in a wide mouth glass jar and quickly put a water balloon on top. What do you think will happen? Why? CAUTION: Adults should help with the experiments involving flame and give close supervision.
6. What is the quickest way to pop a balloon? Stomp it? Sit on it? Drop it? Throw it? Why or why not?
7. Are different brands of water balloons easier to pop? Are “regular” balloons easier or more difficult to pop when filled with water? Can other things be used as water balloons, such as plastic baggies, rubber gloves, nylons or socks? Why or why not? What happens if you dip the socks or nylons in oil then try to get them to hold water?
8. Balloons come in many sizes: long, short, round and heart-shaped. Are different shapes of balloons easier or more difficult to pop?
9. Can you make the balloons easier to pop by covering them in another (non-toxic) liquid? Try dish soap, oil, vinegar, soda pop, honey, ketchup or anything else you can think of. Why did the balloon react the way it did?
10. How far can you drop a water balloon before it pops? This teaches measuring skills as well as science.
11. How many pieces will the balloon break into? Can you change how many pieces it breaks into by how you throw?
12. What is the best way to throw a water balloon for both distance and accuracy? Do heavier or lighter balloons go farther? Can you modify how you throw to improve? Is overhand or underhand better?
13. What happens when you put a water balloon in a freezer? Will the balloon pop? Will it freeze before the balloon breaks?
14. How do you think a water balloon fight would work in outer space? This video can give you a few clues!

Michigan State University Extension recognizes there are many opportunities for science education that occur in the natural world, including this one with water balloons. This lesson can be conducted by any group working with children, including families, day-cares, schools or 4-H clubs. Have some fun outside on a nice summer day and enjoy some science!