Frugal Parenting
(featured column)

How to Have a Blast and Learn Something, Too!
Educational Activities with Plastic Soda Bottles
by Rachel Keller 

Stop! Don’t throw out or recycle that empty soda bottle until you let your children have some creative fun with any of the following fabulous science experiments and educational activities. Whether you homeschool or your children attend a traditional school, you will want to try some of these experiments. The following collection of more than 20 links and ideas have activities for all age groups–from preschool through high school. (Even adults will enjoy many of these experiments.)  More...


If your family doesn’t drink sodas (like ours), collect empty bottles from your next picnic or from friends or neighbors who do drink sodas.

1. Have you ever made a homemade tornado? Well, you can with two plastic soda bottles and some other simple items. Here are several websites that show you how to perform this fun experiment while teaching your children about weather, vortex, and tornados.

2. Now, that you’ve tried the tornado, you will want to experience this rather exciting explosion. You need to do this experiment outside, and you will need a full bottle of diet cola rather than an empty one.

Make your own diet soda fountain or eruption using one box of fruit Mentos candy and one 2-liter diet cola. Either buy an inexpensive metal cylinder or roll a glossy magazine paper into a cylinder slightly larger than the round candy. (You will want the candies to slide out all at once.) Hold them in with your finger, and then let them all drop into the bottle at once. Get ready for a blast! See if your children can determine what causes the soda to erupt. Here are some videos for you to see the eruption.

3. The following link has a terrific picture of the tornado in a bottle as well as slightly different instructions for dropping the Mentos candies into the cola bottle. You will need to scroll to the bottom of the page to find these two experiments. However, you will also enjoy reading the excellent summaries and descriptions about the other experiments.

4. You won’t want to miss this website! Take time to watch some of the videos and read about simple experiments that demonstrate scientific principles. You can even sign up for the science experiment of the week. The following link features an experiment illustrating states of matter and density by using a 2-liter bottle and medicine dropper. This fascinating experiment is a terrific way to explore why things float or sink.

5. Here’s another variation on the above Cartesian Diver experiment using a ketchup packet or small candy bar.

6. This link features still another variation of the Cartesian Diver experiment

7. The following experiment demonstrates that energy from the sun can be collected and stored in many ways. You will need two bottles–one painted white and one black–as well as two balloons. If you don’t have soda bottles, try plastic milk or juice bottles.

8. Visit this link to view a public school science teacher demonstrating Bernoulli's theorem on air pressure using a soda bottle and ping pong ball.

9. Follow the instructions at this link to build an ocean in a bottle and demonstrate that some solutions do not mix.

10. Have fun making a homemade trumpet using soda bottles and a pipe from an old hose. Here’s a great way to recycle that worn-out garden hose, but you must have a good set of lungs!

11. Create your own musical bottles. Collect as many soda bottles as you wish, and fill them with various levels of water. Blow across the top to make music. The higher the water volume, the higher the sound. (In high school, our choir performed a song with various bottles. The lowest notes were made with soda bottles.)

12. Do you know how to blow up a balloon using dry ice? Collect some dry ice, plastic soda bottles, and balloons to try this experiment.

13. Make a cloud in a bottle using a bottle with cap, water, and matches. Adult supervision is needed on this one since you’ll be using matches.

14. The following experiment is great for middle school and high school students to explore how environmental features like light and volume of air influence growth in mung bean sprouts. Have your student make predictions about the relationship between growth and environment and then test their predictions by growing sprouts in various sized plastic soda bottles.

15. Create a biosphere in a bottle to explore some of the factors that determine where bacteria can live. This is a long-term experiment as it takes three to four weeks for bacteria to grow before you can get full results.

16. Read about how one woman reused plastic bottles for vegetable production in the drylands to save water for irrigation. Then try creating your own bottle garden.

17. Investigate the amount of carbon dioxide dissolved in different beverages and how much can be released at different temperatures. You may just want to read about this one unless you have a good digital scale.

18. This chemical reaction powered car can be done at home or in the classroom in as much detail and time as you would like to spend. This is definitely an inquiry-based experiment, and the combination of engineering design/build and chemistry makes it attractive to both boys and girls of all ages.

19. The following experiment is very involved and is geared for a large classroom. Students create a town with all the elements to sustain human life to help them understand the definition, types and origins of the major greenhouse gases.

20. Follow these instructions and in about an hour, you can calibrate a liquid thermometer using a small plastic soda bottle and other simple items.

21. You may just want to read about the following unless you’re really into melting plastics.


Activities for younger children

21. Explore the sense of sound by using plastic soda or juice bottles and various small items, such as dry seeds, beans, rice or pebbles or sand. Secure the lid tightly before shaking to prevent the items from flying out of the bottle. Decorate the container if you wish. Compare the sounds made by the different materials.

22. Use your homemade sound shakers to play a guessing game. Have people guess what is inside just by listening to the noise your shaker makes.

23. Make a homemade bowling game with soda bottles. Add some sand or rice and glue the caps on to prevent spills.

24. Cut the tops of soda bottles to make homemade funnels for small children to play with in the bathtub (or use the funnels yourself).

Do you have other great experiments, fun activities, or game ideas using empty soda bottles? If so, we would love to see them.


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Copyright © 2007 by Rachel Keller. All rights reserved.

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