You’re either going to love this idea or hate it. Introducing “outdoor potions” for kids: the best science activity you’ll ever set up. It’s messy. It’s engaging. It’s one of the most memorable outdoor activities you’ll see this summer… but it’s not for the faint of heart.
What is an outdoor potions station?
We do this activity all the time.
In fact, I buy the supplies for this in bulk and there is a dedicated storage bin in my garage labeled “potions” because it’s such a staple for my kids and the all the neighbor kids who come to my house to play.
The basics: give kids a bunch of (safe) items to experiment with and see what they come up with.
Shout out to my beloved friend, Kristian, from Friends Art Lab, who introduced us to this style of activity.
RELATED: Looking for more great outdoor activities? Check out this awesome list!
What are kids learning by making potions?
Open-ended experimenting is the cornerstone of childhood science exploration. This may look like a giant mess, but it is serious and significant learning for kids.
Potions represent the heart of science for kids:
- Problem solving/critical thinking
I know it’s a mess, but potion making for kids is WHERE IT’S AT.
We have to look past the mess and see the learning. Look with me. C’mon.
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There are a variety of items I keep on hand for potions. Some days I put out all these supplies. Other times, I limit it. Here is a list of what I own that works well in an outdoor potion station:
- Dish soap / washing up liquid / fairy soap
- Baking soda / bi-carb
- White vinegar
- Shaving cream
Containers and tools:
- Measuring cups
- Peri bottles (yup, those are the best!)
- Syringes ( OR use the old ones from kid-medicine)
- Plastic jars with lids (I LOVE these and we use them A LOT)
There’s no rhyme or reason for how much of each substance to have. Just make sure to have a bit of everything, scoops, bottles, containers, etc. The kids need room to play.
I typically add some vinegar to the peri or squirt bottles (along with some food dye for coloring) and put the rest of the materials in little bowls for kids to scoop out what they need.
I also provide lots of additional empty containers so the kids have room to build their potions and experiment.
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Well, there really is no “how-to.”
The goal of outdoor science potions is to allow the kids to work freely and create as they wish. They will develop story lines. They will explore the process of experiments. They will come up with ratios.
This activity is built on:
- Trial and error
- Open exploration
Please do not over think this activity. Provide materials. Provide empty containers/bowls. Provide utensils/tools. Again, kids will just “know” what to do.
Tip – Why there aren’t directions
There aren’t directions, and that’s a hard concept for a lot of adults.
The goal here is to give the kids materials and let them decide what to do. They can add it to jars, bowls, use spoons, scoop, shake, squirt… THIS IS ABOUT THE KIDS.
Often as adults we get very hung up on the specific “recipe” or “how to” of a project. That’s not how this activity works.
In this activity, you provide materials and let the children go from there. While you (the adult) may not fully grasp what to do, upon seeing this materials: kids instantly do.
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Tip – How to handle the mess
Yes, this activity makes a mess.
Before you start this activity, take a moment, and pause a second. How are you going to clean this up? What clean up supplies do you need handy to make it happen at the end?
Here’s what I did:
I had towels near my kids. Some were wet, some were dry. You can even catch a glimpse of them in the background of some of these photos (wink).
I also know from years of doing activities that baking soda, vinegar, and dish soap – they kill grass. So I put all the containers into my sink to clean and then I tipped the contents of this table into a bucket to carry into my house.
This worked for me.
It’s not my favorite clean up but it’s worth it every time. Plus, I’m down to a science on this because we do it so often (pun totally intended).
Frequently Asked Questions
Kids need to be old enough to not eat the potion materials and be dexterous enough to not get it in their eyes. That will be a different age for every child, but use those parameters to decide what is safe for your little one.
Depends on the kid. Most are fine with disposing of the potion ASAP. I have one neighbor friend who is 8 and she likes to keep hers in a jar for a few days. She’s always very proud of her creation.
I didn’t used to but now that it’s the hit of the neighborhood, I do. I get jugs of vinegar and large bags of baking soda from Costco.
I look at these items as consumables. We use consumables often in education: pencils, glue, construction paper, craft sticks, etc. These are consumables. Nothing here is being wasted. Wasted would mean opening it and pouring it right down the drain. These materials are used for learning, similar to how crayons or notepads are used and don’t last forever.