Grandparents Teach, Too: Balloons can make learning physics fun

For less than $2, the whole family can have some physics fun on cold winter days. Ten-inch-round red balloons are very dramatic as they fly around the house. A packet of a variety of balloons makes the time even crazier.

Watch the very young children and pets so they don’t chew holes and inhale the balloons when they burst, but other than that the flying balloons should be safe.

Ben Franklin would be proud. Balloons help teach an important physics principle: propulsion. The opposite action of air molecules rushing out of the balloon’s entrance is the fast movement of the balloon in the opposite direction. For every action there is an almost equal reaction.

Preparing rocket balloons

One tip for prepping balloons without hurting your ears is to stretch the neck of the balloon to loosen it up. Tire pumps also work well. Teaching children to blow their own properly helps, too.

Family STEM fun begins with a discussion of the science principle and thinking of examples of propulsion like jet engines and space rockets. Then ask how we can use the balloons and the principle of propulsion to have some fun with science and solve a problem. How can we prove or show that there is air coming out of the balloon neck? What happens if the balloon is released under soapy water? Children may suggest that they can feel the rush of air or the rush will make some pieces of paper move. You can try out a few of their ideas.

Children can take out a few markers and gently draw silly faces or rockets before or after they expand their balloons. That adds an art component and makes the activity last a bit longer.

Creative science

Now it’s time for a little fun and noise. How far can a balloon go down a hallway? How high will it go? Can it fall into a clothes basket target? What happens if one puts a marble inside the balloon? Can you strap on an action figure like Luke Skywalker with masking tape and let Darth Vader chase after him? Whose balloon goes the farthest? Does anything change if the balloons are fired off outside in the cold weather?

What happens when one squeezes the balloon neck to demonstrate how musical instruments work? Can children do a little song with it?

Interesting books about rockets include “Roaring Rockets (Amazing Machines)” by Tony Mitton; “Elon Musk: This Book is About Rockets” by Evan Loomis; and “The Way Things Work Now” by David Macaulay.

More science fun can be found and archived at; Through the Seasons podcasts and live; Pinterest; and Facebook.