Nature and outdoor science experiments for kids

Boy with magnifying glass
Carry out your own science experiments! (Photo: Jill Jennings/WTML)

By far the best way to learn is by doing. And that’s especially true when you’re outdoors in nature. So why not have a go at these fun science experiments on your next visit to the woods?

You will need:

  • tape measure
  • roll of string
  • paper and pencil
  • camera or phone (optional).

Flight test some helicopter seeds

Field maple seeds
Trees such as field maples have helicopter seeds (Photo: Ben Lee/WTML)

Do this experiment on a calm day as gusts of breeze will affect your results.

1. Collect a few helicopter seeds of different sizes – make sure they’re equally dry and papery.

2. Choose a big one and a small one and guess which will hit the ground first if they’re dropped from the same height.

3. Stand on a rock or tree stump and hold them above your head. Hold each seed end gently between your fingertips with the wings pointing downwards.

4. Let go of them at exactly the same time and watch them spin towards the ground. The one that stays in the air longest is the winner.

5. Try the experiment several times, and with several different pairs, before you come to a conclusion about which size seed is the most efficient flyer. Was your first guess right?

You’ll probably find that the seeds with the biggest wings stay in the air longest. Why do you think this is?

Answer: The larger wing traps more air underneath it as it whirls around and this slows it down.

Take it further: The helicopters help the tree spread its seeds far and wide to produce new trees. Can you think of some other methods plants use to spread their seeds?

Learn more about seeds in our grow a tree blog.

Track a tree shadow

Tree shadow
Track tree shadows across the ground (Photo: Richard Becker/WTML)

This is a great experiment for sunny summer days.

1. Find a tree in a clearing.

2. Measure its shadow using a roll of string, and take a photo so you have a record of the direction the shadow falls (or you could make a sketch).

3. Visit the tree at different times of day – morning, noon and afternoon – to do the same.

4. What do you notice about how the shadow changes throughout the day? When is it longest and when is it shortest? How does it change position?

5. Can you explain why this is?

Answer: The tree blocks the sun’s rays and creates the shadow. The position of the sun changes throughout the day so this changes the angle of the sun’s rays and the shape and position of the shadow. Of course, the sun isn’t really moving – it just looks like it is because the earth is rotating.

Take it further: In the past, people used the sun to tell the time. Can you work out how to make a simple sundial? You could just use a long, straight stick and some stones for markers.

When you’ve finished experimenting, why not have some fun with our shadow play activity?

How old is that tree?

Tree rings
You can only count the rings once a tree has been cut down (Photo: Richard Becker/WTML)

You’ve probably heard that you can tell the age of a tree by counting the rings inside its trunk. But you can only do that if the tree has been cut down. Try this to estimate the age of a living tree.

1. Have a good look some trees. Which ones do you think are the oldest? What makes them look old?

2. Choose a tree and guess how old it is.

3. Now use a tape measure or a piece of string to measure round the trunk in centimetres.

4. On average, 2.5cm of trunk equals a year of growth so if you divide the trunk measurement by 2.5, it will tell you roughly how old the tree is. How does it compare to your guess?

Take it further: Trees grow at different rates depending on where they are. Which do you think will grow faster – a tree in the woods or a tree in the open? Why?

Answer: A tree in the open will usually grow faster as it doesn’t have to compete with other trees for light, water and food from the soil.

Have a go at our measure a tree activity and see if you can work out how tall the tree is too. Or you could become a tree expert with our leaf ID!

Have you carried out any other outdoor science experiments? Tell us about them and share your pictures by posting on our Facebook page, or on Instagram or Twitter using #NatureDetectives.

Did you know you can experience even more fun and adventure with our Woodland Trust family membership from as little as £5 a month?

What's your favourite nature experiment?

comments powered by Disqus