Inside: The endothermic reaction between baking soda and shaving cream adds a truly magical touch to this classic winter boredom buster. The DIY snow is actually cool to the touch! Scroll down for science explanations + science printables.
While fake snow (or DIY snow) is welcomed in my house all year long, it’s the ultimate way to combat boredom in the winter and participate in the season.
What could be cozier than playing with “snow” from the comfort of your own home while the icy white drifts pile up outside your windows?
DIY snow also is a life-saver for when it doesn’t snow outside. Even though we live in Chicago, snow is not guaranteed. So, DIY snow is the only way to get any snow play-in!
DIY Snow is a Way to Learn Some Science
Making DIY Snow is simple and fun, yet it’s an incredibly effective way to learn some serious science.
When you combine two substances, things can go one of two ways: the combination can form a mixture like a trail mix: nuts and berries are physically combined but retain their identity and form. You could easily separate the individual ingredients into piles of nuts and berries, as type-A toddlers are prone to do.
Or, the two substances, such as our baking soda and shaving cream, can form a chemical reaction that cannot be separated back into the original form. It’s no longer shaving cream or baking soda but something else entirely. And the byproduct of this particular reaction is a temperature change! We think it’s pretty cool!
The best thing about this easy science experiment is that you can play with your DIY snow for hours! Oh, the possibilities! Make a snowman (or two), get a few LEGO figurines or cookie cutters, and stage a snowball fight, or bring out your trucks and Little World animals and have a snow day party. Bringing these “outside” activities inside gets kids soooo excited…
DIY Snow is Sensory Fun
The concept of sensory play is an interesting one. It’s defined as a type of activity that engages your child’s senses.
The importance of a child’s senses wasn’t scientifically recognized until the 20th century when Swiss psychologist Jean Piaget first investigated the importance of environmental experiences and multisensory stimulation for a child’s healthy cognitive development. But how did the human race go about things before the concept of “sensory experience” was invented?
After carefully examining historical fiction and nonfiction, as well as asking our grandparents (if they are still alive) about their childhoods, one thing quickly becomes apparent. Our ancestors had no shortage of sensory play in their lives. Kids dug in the mud with bare hands, ran barefoot, ate with their hands, wrestled in the grass, and freely inhaled the aromas of cow poop, wildflowers, and everything else a gust of wind might bring to them.
In contrast, modern kids live in a sterile and highly controlled environment. They touch mostly man-men items made of plastic, are driven everywhere in the safety of sealed cars, and, for the most part, apply their sense of smell, taste, sight, sound, and touch to a very limited range of things.
When I overheard a lady at the gymnastics school say to another parent that “sensory play” is over-parenting, I thought, “yes” and “no.” It’s definitely overparenting if your kids are already running wild all day, exploring all the senses with abundance and glee. But since most kids do not live such a lifestyle, I believe we should concern ourselves with purposefully creating an environment of sensory exploration.
This is not to say that you should summon your children for precisely 30 minutes of obligatory slime squiggling. Just offer them things to experience and let them choose how to have fun.
And DIY Snow is great for that!
Winter Boredom Buster:
Indoor Fun with DIY Snow
What you need
Baking soda – 2 cups (or one 1-lb box)
Shaving cream – 2 cups
Water (possibly, optional)
Add-ins (toys, craft supplies, pinecones, and other nature items)
Note: As you can see in the pic above, we ended up using 2 boxes of baking soda, so we could make a snowman and have “snow” left for other things. I have baking soda on subscribe-and-save because I use it for everything. Also, I’m always asked where I bought our impressive holiday bowl, so I added a link to it.
What to do
Use your hands to knead and mix 2 cups of baking soda (or one 1-lb box) with 2 cups of shaving cream. You don’t have to measure the shaving cream; just add small amounts at a time until you reach the right consistency.
Or a snowman.
Or add snow toys.
The possibilities are endless!
Did you notice that the mixture is cold to the touch, just like real snow? Scroll down to the science section below to find out why.
Troubleshooting: If your kids feel that the “snow” doesn’t exactly have the right snow-like appearance, add a few drops of water.
The Science Behind the Activity
When you mix baking soda with shaving cream, you create a chemical reaction. Sodium bicarbonate (baking soda) and the acid compounds in shaving cream create an endothermic reaction.
“Endo” comes from Greek, Meaning “within,” and “thermo” as you can probably guess, means “heat,” or more broadly, “temperature” (as in a thermometer). So this type of reaction draws heat from the outside environment “within.” The new substance formed in the reaction contains more energy than the two substances that created it.
The melting of ice to form water is another example of an endothermic reaction. In this case, the ice will take in energy as heat from the surrounding air and/or direct rays of warm sunlight. The resulting melted water thus has more “energy” to it – that is, more movement of the atoms in the substance – than it had before. The energy inside a substance is called enthalpy, another Greek word that can be translated as “warmth within.”
Just remember, if a chemical reaction feels cold, it’s because it’s endothermic, sucking up the heat. If it feels warm, it’s exothermic, generating heat.
Want to go deeper? The following Science Basics Pack will help! It includes step-by-step instructions for forming a hypothesis, designing an experiment, scientific questions, a scientific method cheat sheet, and more.