4 Simple Science Projects for Kids Using Recycled Materials

child doing electric project

It comes around every year: your child’s science fair project. Whether you are prepping a month in advance or your kid just told you about it a day before it is due, there are some great options available. You can make this project even better by taking advantage of recycled materials, making your science fair work both budget-friendly and environmentally-friendly.

So, here are a few options that could work well for your child’s science project.

1. Tornado in a Bottle

This is a tried-and-true science project that not only teaches children a lot, but also looks cool. Your child can easily make it from recycled materials, and the best part is that it is quick and easy.

  1. Get a clean, clear plastic bottle with a lid. People often use a 20-ounce soda bottle or similarly sized water bottle. These work great because of their easy-to-use cap and because they're not too big. Plus, plastic bottles are safe if they drop, as they will not explode or shatter. However, you can also use an old salsa jar or whatever type you may have lying around.
  2. You will need to get some of your liquid dish soap, and if you’re feeling ambitious, some food coloring.
  3. Clean the plastic bottle, and fill it with clean water until it is about three quarters full. You can add some food coloring to make the water stand out more in contrast with the dish soap. (Glow-in-the-dark dye is extra fun.)
  4. Next, add 1 teaspoon liquid dish soap. (Add a little glitter to make the tornado easier to see and a little more visually exciting.)
  5. Secure the lid onto the bottle tightly.
  6. Give the bottle a good shake in a circular motion.

If you're a teacher or after-school program director, this can be a great science project for a class or group of children to do as well, showing each kid how they can make his or her own tornado.

2. Light-on Electricity Experiment

The idea here is to use your old items to show your child’s class how electricity works. One easy project is to recycle old batteries, as well as one of your old strings of Christmas lights. (Be sure to check the lights before you begin this project, as a broken bulb will not illuminate no matter what you do.)

  1. Take an old string of Christmas lights, and snip it apart to remove one single bulb. Make sure to give yourself enough line to fit around a AA battery (about 1 inch on each side).
  2. Strip away the covering at the ends of the wires so that the copper inside is showing.
  3. Then tape one end of copper wire to one side of the battery, and the other side to the other side of the battery. Do so with electrical tape. Make sure that no hands are wet while messing with this stuff or they may get quite a shock.
  4. After all of this is attached you should see the light illuminate until the battery runs out of power.

This is a wonderful way to show your child how electricity works, while showing off the results in a fun way!

Disclaimer: Projects involving electricity should always be supervised by a parent.

3. Make a Parachute

This is a great project for experimenting with wind, propulsion, and gravity using just a simple plastic shopping bag.

  1. Take a lightweight and air-catching material plastic bag and cut it into a rectangular shape. From there, cut that shape into an octagon.
  2. Using tape or glue, attach a piece of string to each corner of the octagon so that you have eight strings in total. Remember, all the strings should be equal in length.
  3. Then using tape or glue, attach the other ends of the strings to a weight of some kind. (Action figures or little green soldiers work well—nothing that is too heavy.)
  4. Then, cut a small slit in the top of the parachute to let it descend gracefully when it falls.

Disclaimer: Do not attempt to maximize this project to create a parachute for human-use. This should only be done using small toys.

4. Invisible Ink

The invisible ink trick is simple, as well as cool to see in action. All that you need a cotton swab, half a lemon, a few drops of water, a piece of paper, and a lamp.

  1. Squeeze the juice from your half of a lemon into a bowl.
  2. Then, add a few drops of clean water.
  3. Dip a cotton swab into the mixture and use it like a pen to write a message on plain white paper. The message may be visible until the liquid dries.
  4. Once dry, the paper should look completely blank. Simply hold the piece of paper over a light bulb at a safe distance, and watch your secret message reappear on the page.

Use these simple projects to give your child a great chance to observe specific scientific principles using (mostly) recycled materials.