This project is a fun way to understand materials – a part of my son’s science classes last term. We set up a simple ‘materials property testing lab’ and gathered a handful of things to be tested. I also printed out the property testing master sheet ahead so that the child can record his observations (download your free copy at the end of this post).
Before beginning the activity, talk to your child about materials and find out their understanding about materials. You might have to teach about the different materials if they haven’t learnt about this before. Here are some basic points to introduce materials. We use materials to make objects. To make an object work, we need to understand how materials work so that we can carefully choose which material to use for any given object. We classify objects according to the materials used to make it. (Bonus: Check out the materials sorting game to understand more about the different types of materials).
We can differentiate materials based on their properties. In this activity, we test whether materials are strong, flexible, waterproof, transparent or if they float or sink in water.
Materials property testing setup
The setup was as easy as can be. Gather materials (as few or as many as you want) from around the house. Just make sure you have at least one object from each material type*. You could use the list and guidelines for types of materials used from the sorting game post.
*As always, take care to use age appropriate objects and I recommend avoiding glass and ceramic if your child is too young or still throws things.
What it takes
Set up: 10 minutes
Play time: over 30 minutes
Clean up: 5 minutes
- Materials of different types (wood, plastic, paper, fabric, rubber, glass, metal and ceramic)
- Large bowl or vase filled with water
- Eager little learners
A material is strong if it won’t break or tear when pressure is applied – that is pulled, or dropped. Pickup your array of objects and apply pressure to them. Try to pull apart or smash them*. If the object breaks, it is weak. For example, metals plates and wooden toys are strong and they don’t break easily. Paper, however, tears upon the slightest pressure and is weak. Record your observations in the material property testing master sheet.
* Warning: Do not drop glass or ceramic when children are around. There simply isn’t a safe way to do this at home.
A material is flexible if you can bend it without breaking. Rubber erasers and some plastic rulers or wooden chopsticks, for example, are flexible and can be bent considerably without breaking it. Crayons and pencils are stiff and hence will break when they are bent.
A material that doesn’t absorb water is called waterproof. We dipped our objects in water to see if it absorbs water. Most waterproof materials can get wet but it should get dry when you give it a shake. Objects are not waterproof if they’re soaked in water.
Sink or float?
When you place the object in water, does it float or sink? Does a pencil float? How about a wooden block? Or a plastic one? Why does the strip of cotton sink?
You can expand this part of the activity further in many ways.
A transparent material completely allows light to pass through. On the other hand, an opaque object blocks light completely, meaning you cannot see anything through it. All materials vary in their level of transparency. There are objects that are completely transparent or opaque or anywhere in between (partially transparent).
Note that some objects are made of more than one material. Try and explain the reason why different materials are needed to make an object the right way. You might show them a tambourine, for example. Or a pair of spectacles.
To expand the project further, you can question your child about materials used for things that they know well, but not present in your materials testing lab.
- What are the materials used in a pencil?
- What material property do you need to make a raincoat? or an umbrella? Can you think of any material that you might use?
- How many properties should you look for while making a fishing rod? Why?
- How about a pencil case? or a school bag?
- What can an aquarium be made of? How about a boat?
- Is there any other material used to make a book than paper? What works and what doesn’t?
- What are different types of shoes made of? Why?
- Are metals strong? Do you know of any metal object that’s very weak?
- What material would you use to make toilet door? Which material should you NOT use?
Free download – Materials property testing master sheet
Click here to download your free copy of materials property testing master sheet.