Pirates offer many fascinating science topics – boat engineering, star navigation, cartography to name just a few – and we really enjoyed looking closely at different aspects of pirates lives and doing related hands-on activities. As you can see from our pictures below we had a lot of fun. And you will too! Besides our own activities, I included the best science-related, pirate-themed activities on the web I could find. Check them out!
Pirate Science: Engineering
According to modern historians, piracy existed as long as there were oceans and someone to rob. The earliest documented evidence of piracy goes back to 14 BC when Mediterranean sea became an important hub of commercial activity. So, what that technologically primitive community used to make their boats?
Ask kids what they think. If they have trouble coming up with answers, start with the most simple materials like hollow logs, bundles of reeds, a bark of trees, animals hides, bamboo, wicker and move on to more advanced modern materials like steel, aluminum, and plastics. After a brief discussion, it’s time to build a boat! This is a great activity to talk about buoyancy, gravity, water displacement (aka Archimedes’ Principle), and learn about different types of boats and how they work.
We built our LEGO boat (in the pic below) from a mix of black, red and a couple of white pieces that I bought in bulk. It’s a random selection of used pieces and you never know what you get, but we find it strangely inspirational and enjoy the challenge of creating something fun out of those discarded pieces. Some bulk sets (see here) are sold washed and sanitized, but others have to be scrubbed in a bathtub with a hefty dose of bubble soap (Fun project. Depending on the mood?). Our sails and flags are made of paper.
For any LEGO enthusiast, a LEGO Boat Engineering Challenge for kids from Handmade Kids Art will be a super fun project.
Sometimes the best projects are the easiest ones to set up. It takes five minutes to get ready for this Engineering Challenge for kids from Planet Smarty. The challenge is to design and build a boat that REALLY floats with simple things from around the house.
If you like to make use of your recycle bin and like simple crafts than you will love Simple Sail Boat Craft from No Time for Flashcards. The best part is that kids of all ages can participate.
A moving self-propelled Margarine Tub Tug Boat Craft from Red Ted Art (yes, this boat actually does work!)
I’m a huge fan of papier-mache and taught my kids this technique when they were little. So, of course, I couldn’t resist making a DIY Pirate Ship we round on Powerful Mothering. It is fun to decorate and easy to make.
Pirate Science: Navigation
Having a boat that could float without sinking is not enough to be a pirate. Pirates had to know how to navigate the seas without the use of the technology that we have today. The word navigation refers to getting from one place to another safely. So how did pirates find their way around?
Celestial Navigation is considered one of the oldest practices in human history and refers to finding one’s way by the stars, moon, and sun. Understanding wind tendencies and clouds were essential when the stars and sun were not visible. Even though compass was invented in China by 1AD it was not used for navigation until much later and the first documented evidence of the compass navigation in Europe dates to 12th century.
Shadows traced the path of the sun across the sky just like it does today and helped sailors navigate. It’s believed that even Vikings used sundials for navigation. So, have fun with this DIY Sundial from Krokotak and learn to navigate like Vikings (who were essentially pirates).
I’m a stickler to the routines and consider it a basis of happy home life with small kids, but sometimes you just need to have fun. So, one of those days, or rather nights, consider letting kids stay up late and check out the night sky Without a Telescope.
You can also go ahead and Make a Telescope and you will learn about refraction, lenses, and wave behavior. Telescopes came useful for pirates when they were looking at other ships or when their boats were close to the shore, sailors could get their bearings from recognizable landmarks.
Learn about magnetic North and how a compass works with this How to Make a Compass post from Science with Kids.
One of the easiest Homemade Weather Vanes we ever made is similar to this one from PBS Kids. Last fall we kept a wind diary and kids started and finished each day by going outside and recording the direction of the wind. Then we made a wind rose.
Pirate Science: Cartography
One of the most exciting things about pirates is their treasure. (Did you know that pirates didn’t really bury their treasure? We learned that from this exciting nonfiction book). But if they did, how did pirates know where to look for their treasure? Cartography, or a science of drawing maps and charts, would have come very useful.
People have been making maps since the beginning of time. Thousand of years ago cave people carved drawings of their territories on the cave walls. There is evidence of primitive maps among Eskimos, Incas, and ancient Chinese people.
Introduce your kids to mapping with this simple Cartography for Kids Activity from Education.
If you want to make an authentic looking map with kids, try this Tea-Stained Treasure Map from Kiwicrate. My kids absolutely loved it! I singed the edges of the map to make it look even more real. Instead of a cardstock recommended in the post, we used mixed media paper from my painting class.
Did you know that cartographers make an extensive use of many mathematical concepts, such as scale, projection, and coordinate systems? Practice beginner cartography skills with Mapping Storybooks from National Geographic.
Once you master making maps how about a little practice in reading maps? My kids love a good treasure hunt and I’m sure your kids do too. Here are wonderful instructions on How to Make a Treasure Map for Children from Wiki How.
If you are looking for some pirate-related fun this Puzzle Treasure Hunt from My Kids Adventures is on our list for the next Talk like a Pirate Day (September 19th).
Pirate Science: Sensory Fun
Sensory play is always fun for my children and if it’s pirate-themed all the better.
Our most favorite pirate-themed sensory play of all times is Pirate Science Fun: Exploding Treasure Chests from Fun a Day. We have done it many times and every time without a fail there is no end of excitement. My kids favorite colorant is cool-aid powder, but we also had great success with lemonade powder and jello mix.
If you ask my kids, chemistry is all about taking a bunch of stuff and mixing it together. Of course, the real definition of chemistry is more complex than that, but I think my kids are on the right track. Chemistry is really good for mixing things up to see what happens. This Pirate Slime Recipe from Where Imagination Grows is great if you are ok with borax.
The job of a scientist usually involves manipulation of materials and ideas and exploration and discovery and if you ask me, it’s very similar to kids sensory play. No matter what is their age all my kids enjoy a good pile of playdough. Make it even more fun and make Pirate Treasure Playdough from One Time Through.
My kids also love playing with black rice and “diamonds.” We got the inspiration from The Bling Bin from Rubber Boots and Elf Shoes. The difference is that they use black gravel and we use black rice.
Pirate Books and Movies
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International Talk like a Pirate Quirky Blog Hop
Looking for more Pirate-themed ideas? International Talk like a Pirate Day is coming up on September 19th and I teamed up with some wonderful bloggers from around the world to bring you some interesting ideas and activities for kids of all ages.
International Talk like a Pirate Quirky Blog Hop and Round Up from Witty Hoots
Salt Dough Treasures from Peakle Pie
Share it Science features some amazing Pirate Optical Illusions
Teach Children Mapping Skills With A Pirates Treasure Hunt from Tree Valley Academy
Kitchen Floor Crafts shares a fabulous Pirate Treasure Sensory Bin with Letter
Great Ideas for Pirate Board Books for Toddlers from The Jenny Evolution
Are you looking for more of our Play and Learn ideas?
Check out 40 Ways to Play and Learn with Weather