Inside: We took a closer look at historical Halloween traditions and discovered an abundance of opportunities for hands-on investigation. Halloween Science topics range from fire activities to candy experiments. Have a look!
Halloween: the strange and spooky holiday we celebrate every year on October 31. When my kids were very little, we called it a Dress-Up Holiday. When they got old enough to eat candy, it became a Candy Day. But one year, when I overheard my son explaining to his younger sister, “Halloween is when we dress up as creeps and ask strangers for candy,” I knew I had some research to do. How did this weird set of rituals begin?
It turns out that Halloween originated from the pagan religious festival Samhain (pronounced sow-win), which ancient Celts celebrated at the mid-point between the fall equinox and the winter solstice. The costumes were worn to ward off ghosts because it was believed that the spirits of the dead returned to earth on that day. (No candy, though).
Over time, Christianity blended with older Celtic rites, and Samhain evolved into “All-Hallows Eve,” and eventually, “Halloween.” Even though it wasn’t celebrated in America until the second half of the 19th century, Halloween quickly evolved to become its second-largest commercial holiday after Christmas. In 2018, Americans spent 9 billion dollars on Halloween. (That’s a lot of candy!)
Since a lot of us may be reconsidering trick-or-treating this year, I thought it would be a good time to dig up some other traditions to keep you and your kids busy. Enjoy!
Halloween Science: 6 Fire Experiments
Two thousand years ago, when Celtic people celebrated Samhain, bonfires were lit in every community, town, and village to ward off evil spirits. In those days, the fire was not merely a way to cook food and keep warm, but a powerful symbol and an integral part of every solemn ceremony.
Of course, people are still obsessed with fire (as the $2 billion candle industry attests), and fire experiments get everyone excited about science.
NUMBER 1: Our favorite fire experiment this time of the year is the Fire and Ice Experiment. Like many people, my kids find the fire-and-ice combo fascinating. So, we made a candle holder out of ice (if it’s not cold enough out yet, your freezer will work) and then set the candle inside the ice candle holder. Would the fire burn the candle? What unique designs would the air bubbles and impurities create in your ice candle? How long can these two opposite elements co-exist? Find out!
NUMBER 2: Of course, our favorite fire experiment of all time is making Green Fire. Yep. Usually a flame’s color is red, orange, yellow, white, and blue. But we thought it would be fun to experiment with colors and turn our fire green. It’s easy to do, and you can find detailed instructions on the blog.
NUMBER 3: Would you like to learn Newton’s Third Law of Motion by doing something fun? Get out some coffee mugs and a birthday cake candle, and get ready for a fascinating hands-on exploration with our Birthday Cake Candle Fire Experiment.
NUMBER 4: Do your kids enjoy fizzy science? This one is a basic baking soda and vinegar experiment (with an element of fire) that will help kids to master the basics of chemical reactions and the power of positive affirmations as well. Interesting combo, huh? We call this activity Dragon Spell for Kids.
NUMBER 5: Here’s a question: Can you get ice to burn? I’m not going to tell you the answer; head over to the Stemsational Blog and check out the Burning Ice Science Experiment.
NUMBER 6: One fire experiment that we absolutely have to do over and over and over is Flying Tea Bag Ghosts. Oh my! All you need is a teabag, sharpie, and fire. One word of warning: not all tea bags are created equal. We get the best results with Tazo, Stash, and some Twinings tea. Anything else just doesn’t fly. Literally.
Ghost Science: Five Experiments
Ghosts became a symbol of Halloween because, according to myth, on this day, the veil between this and that world is so thin that ghosts can return to earth to wander and haunt the living.
Traditionally, a ghost is a symbol of death and the fragility of mortal existence, but the modern, PG version calls for not too spooky, kid-friendly alternatives. If you are looking for cool and non-scary ghost science, here are five of our favorites
NUMBER 1: If a complicated science experiment is not for you, you can’t go wrong with a Static Electricity Dancing Ghost Experiment. All you need is a balloon and some tissue paper to demonstrate the power of the electric charge to your kids.
NUMBER 2: If your kids enjoy eating eggs, then they will enjoy making ghost eggs. In the Ghost Egg Experiment, you use vinegar to dissolve eggshells over a couple of days (plan accordingly) and end up with glowing eggs. Seriously!
NUMBER 3: Have you noticed Marshmallow Ghosts in your candy aisle? It turns out they are amazing for this next science experiment. You need a couple of ghosts, a narrow bottle, and a microwave to wow your kids with the Exploding Peep Geysers Experiment.
NUMBER 4: This experiment requires a bit of a setup, but every time we do it, my kids have a blast, and we end up doing it again and again. The big science idea behind Ghost Balloon Experiment is creating enough thrust to send the balloon zipping along the string. Good time to teach your kids what thrust is too.
NUMBER 5: Do you have film canisters? If not, you can easily buy them on amazon. It’s worth it, I promise. Ghost Rockets is one of those activities that your kids will always remember. You set off ghost rockets with Alka-Seltzer, and they shoot up high!
Candy Science: 7 Hands-on Experiments
One-quarter of all candy sold in the US every year is purchased on Halloween. So, it’s obvious; you can’t get through this season without a candy experiment. Or two. Or seven.
NUMBER 1: Are your kids big LEGO fans? Do you think they would be excited to play with edible LEGO bricks and people? Don’t worry; you will only need a couple of ingredients that are easily found in any grocery store, plus some molds (that can be reused with lots of other activities).
NUMBER 2: With just three items and less than 15 minutes, you can inflate a balloon with candy, this experiment is perfect for days when you don’t have much time to dedicate to hands-on science investigation. It turns out that some candy contains a small amount of gas that reacts with pressured carbon dioxide gas in soda bottles. And you can harness the power of this reaction to inflate a balloon!
NUMBER 3: Are you baking some really cool Halloween cupcakes or cookies this year? If you have candy sprinkles left over, use them for an exciting sprinkles chromatography experiment. Chromatography is the science of separating mixtures into their components. And you can easily separate each color to discover what dies it’s made of. Hint: it’s not what you’d expect.
NUMBER 4: Do you often wonder post-Halloween what to do with all that trick-or-treat candy? This year try to make your candy disappear. Disappearing Candy Experiment is even more fun with different brands OF candies SO YOU CAN compare the results and discuss the differences.
NUMBER 5: Did you know that some parts of M&M candy are soluble in water, and some are not? This makes for a pretty surprising demonstration. Try to separate letter M from the candy and make it float on the surface in a bowl. We think it’s pretty cool!
NUMBER 6: Even though nowadays there are lots of natural hard candy options available, go ahead, try making your own candy. You will learn a lot about the process of evaporation and how sugar solidifies into crystals. You will never look at hard candy in the same way again!
NUMBER 7: Why not learn some chemistry with candy corn? An orange slime made with shaving cream and candy corn is amazingly fluffy and fun to squeeze. I think I have found my preschooler’s new favorite slime recipe! But my older kids enjoy playing with it too.
Spooky Science: 3 Messy Projects
Pumpkins, vampires, bats, witches, and monsters are all a traditional part of Halloween, and there are a lot of fun ways to play with that. However, we thought that it would be fun to include some messy and gross activities into our Halloween repertoire too.
NUMBER 1: If you have vinegar and baking soda left from other experiments (above), try the erupting pumpkin experiment. Add loads of black and orange food coloring to the pumpkin for an extra spooky effect. It’s one of those activities that all kids enjoy, no matter their age or science inclination.
NUMBER 2: Do your kids like vampires? This vampire blood experiment is fun and impressive. First, extract chlorophyll from green leaves (like kale), then use a black light to turn the liquid fluorescent. We think it’s thrilling!
NUMBER 3: Why do water molecules stick together? Explore it with a spooky lava lamp with a Halloween twist and, while you’re at it, learn about density, hydrophobia, and positive charge.