Budget-Friendly Experiments That Will Have Your Kids Loving Science

Graduated cylinders and beaker filled with chemical compounds
Horia Varlan under Creative Commons

You don’t have to spend big bucks to create a winning science fair project.

I used to work as an environmental and science educator in museums, classrooms and the great outdoors, so I have plenty of experience exploring science with kids of all ages. I promise: a hefty bill is not necessary to explore the wonders of science and nature. All you need are a curious mind and a few basic household items.

People usually wind up spending a lot on two main categories: equipment and materials for the experiment itself, and materials for the display. Instead of blowing big bucks on fancy supplies, use these strategies to enrich your child’s education and create a great science fair project for less cash.

Present the Project Right

Display materials can take a big bite out of a small science fair budget. But your child’s project doesn’t need to use expensive materials to look great.

First, sort through your old project boards from science fairs and other school projects. It’s easy to transform a poster about the middle ages into a dynamic display board for new scientific discoveries. First, peel off as much of the old display as possible, being careful to not tear into the main board. Then, recover the board with butcher paper for a fresh start.

Team up with other families to purchase a roll of butcher paper or a multi-pack of display boards. Check out deals at big box stores and wholesale clubs as well as online retailers. A 200-foot roll of 4-foot-wide butcher paper goes for about $20 on Amazon. That’s enough paper for 30 projects! Keep the width of your board in mind when purchasing and aim for a seamless fit for the best look.

The same tactics apply for construction paper. For $15, you can purchase 500 sheets of colorful paper to accent the charts and graphs on your display. Split this expense with other families for a cheap way to explain science in style.

Freebies abound for used display boards as well as leftover butcher and construction paper. Post an ad on Craigslist or FreeCycle to see if anyone has used ones they’re looking to part with. Also, keep an eye out for sales throughout the year. Back to school season is a great time to stock up on all sorts of school supplies, from poster boards to construction paper.

Selecting an Experiment

Be sure any project your child selects uses the scientific method, including making observations, developing a hypothesis, predicting the results, conducting the experiment, analyzing the results and coming up with a conclusion. Also, be sure to follow any specific guidelines from your child’s school and teacher.

While you can cut corners on many aspects of your science fair project, never skimp on safety equipment. Be sure to wear quality goggles, gloves and other safety equipment and to always have proper adult supervision.

Focus on experiments that use household items that you already have or can purchase inexpensively. The experiments below use mainly household ingredients and kitchen supplies that you likely already have on hand, as well as natural items that you can collect outdoors for free.

Budget-Friendly Science Experiments

These science experiments can all be done with basic items that you probably have in your fridge or pantry, or can purchase for just a few dollars.

These fall leaf experiments use leaves and basic household supplies, including coffee filters, aluminum foil and rubbing alcohol.

Discover why the sky is blue with these simple experiments that only use the sun as well as some water and a few basic household items.

Static electricity is another fun and inexpensive topic to explore. Using a hair comb, balloon, thread and cereal, you can make your own static electricity to observe.

Using milk, food coloring, a cotton swab and dish detergent, explore color movement in this experiment from the American Chemical Society.

If you have a younger family member, dissect a clean diaper to explore how they work. This experiment uses diapers, food coloring, plastic cups and other basic household supplies.

Explore the classic saying about how “oil and water don’t mix” with this simple kitchen experiment that explores the molecular bonds of these basic liquids.

An ice cube is no match for a measure of fishing line in this experiment that explores the phenomenon of cutting ice in half, which also looks at how skates glide along the surface of the ice.

No one ever brings a raw potato as their lunch time snack, though crisp and juicy apples are very popular. You’d imagine that a taster could easily tell the fruit from the spud, but this simple experiment shows that it is a little more challenging to taste without smell.

Potatoes are also key to this fun feat of strength that demonstrates how to pierce a potato with only a drinking straw.

Your body is the principal tool needed to test your dominant side with this simple and fun experiment. You’ll want to test all your friends and family and see how they compare.

The classic vinegar and baking soda volcano demonstrates chemical reactions with a budget-friendly bang.

Salinity and density are the chief topics to explore in this experiment that shows how to make an egg float in water with the addition of salt.

Looking for more? Find a wealth of other experiments online, including additional ones from Science Kids and A2Z Home Schooling. Happy science fairing!

Your Turn: What’s your favorite budget-friendly science experiment?

Kristen Pope is a freelance writer and editor in Jackson Hole, Wyoming. For more, see kepope.com.