Share This Post

Creative Corner / Holidays

Last Minute Do-It -ourself Science Christmas Gifts

Have you completed Christmas shopping or do you still have a few gifts to produce between now and early next week? I recently had a mom ask about science-themed gift ideas that her children could easily make. Here are a few crafty ideas that use kitchen science and materials found around the house.

Secret Messages

Invisible Pens
You can use special magic pens that contain a fluorescent ink. The ink is invisible under normal light conditions but lights up under ultraviolet light. You will need a black light to reveal your messages. Don’t stop at secret messages, draw pictures, make signs or create posters – anything you draw will show up under the black light.  Invisible marker ink can be removed with soap and water.

Pilot FriXion Pens
Friction pens write like regular pens, until you want to erase them. The thermo-sensitive ink magically disappears from friction heat caused from the eraser. You can also put the paper by a heat source like a candle or light bulb. Just don’t set the paper on fire. Adult supervision is suggested if you use the heat source direction. The ink disappears, but is the message really gone? Place the paper in the freezer. The message reappears!

For more ways to create secret messages and reveal them, click here.

Borax Christmas Ornaments

  • Pipe cleaners (white, if possible)
  • String
  • Wide-mouthed jar
  • Borax (check your local grocer’s laundry section)
  • A pencil
  • Boiling water
  • Food coloring (optional)
  • Scissors
  • Adult supervision
  1. Using a pair of scissors, cut a pipe cleaner into three equal sections.
  2. Twist the three pipe cleaner sections together at their centers to form a six-sided snowflake. Don’t stress if the sides aren’t perfectly even, little imperfections make it beautiful.
  3. Make sure that the shape can fit through the mouth of the wide-mouthed jar without having to squeeze through. If it can’t, trim the sides down.
  4. Cut a 4″ length of string to one side of the snowflake. Tie the other end of the string to a pencil. You want the length of your string to be enough that the snowflake hangs into the jar but doesn’t touch the bottom. Once you have your length set, remove the apparatus from the jar.
  5. Bring a pot of water to a boil and pour into the jar. Add 3 tablespoons of borax per each cup of water a stir. It’s alright if some borax settles to the bottom of the jar.
  6. If you want a colored snowflake, stir in some food coloring.
  7. Hang the pipe cleaner snowflake into the jar with the pencil resting on top of the jar. Make sure that you’ve added enough water to completely submerge the snowflake.
  8. Put the jar somewhere where it is safe from being disturbed. Seriously! You don’t even want it to be bumped! Let it stay there overnight.
  9. The next day, check out the gorgeous crystals! Untie the string from the pencil and you’ve got yourself a great holiday decoration.
Click through to the Borax Crystal Ornament experiment for the science behind this activity.


Sharpie Pen Tie Dye Designs

  • Sharpie® permanent markers (red, orange, yellow, green, blue, purple)
  • Plastic cup
  • Rubber band
  • Rubbing alcohol (70% from the drug store)
  • Dropper bottle or medicine dropper
  • Pre-washed white t-shirt
    You don’t need to stick to just t-shirts. You can decorate anything made out of fabric – pot holders, aprons, bandanas… use your imagination.

Warning: Rubbing alcohol is very flammable and must be kept away from any open flames or heat. This experiment must be conducted in a well-ventilated area, preferably outdoors or in a room with open windows. 

  1. Place the plastic cup inside the middle of the t-shirt. Position the opening of the cup directly under the section of the shirt that you want to decorate. Stretch the rubber band over the t-shirt and the cup to secure the shirt in place.
  2. Place dots or circles of ink from one marker in a circle pattern about the size of a quarter in the center of the stretched out fabric. If you like, use another color marker to fill in spaces in between the first dots. There should be a quarter size circle of dots in the middle of the plastic cup opening when you are finished.
  3. Slowly squeeze approximately 20 drops of rubbing alcohol into the center of the circle of dots. DO NOT flood the design area with rubbing alcohol. The key is to drip the rubbing alcohol slowly in the center of the design and allow the molecules of ink to spread outward from the center. As the rubbing alcohol absorbs into the fabric, the ink spreads in a circular pattern. The result is a beautiful flower-like pattern. Students often remark, however, that the design looks like the colorful surface of a compact disc.
  4. Apply as much or as little rubbing alcohol as desired, but do not let the pattern spread beyond the edges of the cup. Allow the developed design to dry for three to five minutes before moving on to a new area of the shirt.
  5. It is important to heat set the colors by placing the shirt in the laundry dryer for approximately 15 minutes. Teachers have also suggested rinsing the shirt in a solution of vinegar and water as a means of setting the colors.

For the science behind how the Sharpie Pen activity works, visit the experiment page.

Lava Lamps – Wave Bottles

  • Test tube, water bottle or any plastic bottle
  • Vegetable oil
  • Water
  • Food coloring

You can make a wave bottle using the classic Alka-Seltzer version, but the reaction only lasts a short time. Wait to perform this experiment after the recipient opens the gift. To make a lava lamp wave bottle,  fill the bottle 3/4 full with vegetable oil. Fill the rest of the bottle with water and add a few drops of food coloring. Seal the bottle with the cap. Notice how the dye colors the water and not the oil. Tip the bottle back and forth to create waves of fun.

Homemade Ice Cream 

  • Large (1 gallon) plastic jar (a coffee can works, too)
  • 2 quart-size zipper-lock bags
  • Half & Half
  • Crushed ice (or snow in the winter!)
  • Rock salt
  • Vanilla
  • Sugar
  • Towel (or winter gloves)
  1. Fill the plastic jar about half full with crushed ice.
  2. Add about 6 tablespoons of rock salt to the ice. Seal the plastic jar and shake the ice and salt for about five minutes. You’ll need to wear your gloves when you’re handling the jar. If you’re curious as to why you have to wear gloves, measure the temperature of the mixture with a thermometer. The rock salt and ice mixture gets down to about 14 degrees F (-10 degrees C)!
  3. Use one quart-size zipper-lock bag to mix the following ingredients:
    • 1/2 cup of Half & Half
    • 1 tablespoon sugar
    • 1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
    • Add chocolate sauce, carmel sauce, chopped strawberries or your favorite flavors
  4. Seal tightly, allowing as little air to remain in the bag as possible. Too much air left inside may force the bag open during shaking.
  5. Place this bag inside the other quart-size bag, again leaving as little air inside as possible and sealing well. By double-bagging, the risk of salt and ice leaking into the ice cream is minimized.
  6. Place the two bags inside the jar with the ice and seal the bag. Wrap the bag in the towel or put your gloves on. Shake, rock, roll, and mix that can! Your ice cream should be ready after about 15-20 minutes.
  7. Once mixed, remove the inner bags from the jar and rinse them well with water. You don’t want any salt water accidentally getting into your ice cream.
  • UV Beads
  • Keyring or any necklace cording
String the color changing beads onto the ring or cord. Hang beads off a backpack or use as a bracelet or necklace. You can also mix the color changing beads with other pony beads to make a unique creation. Color Changing UV beads are white inside but become brilliant colors when in sunlight. The beads contain a special pigment that changes color when exposed to ultra-violet rays from the sun. They are a great reminder to put sunscreen on, even in wintertime. When the beads are colorful, you are being exposed to dangerous UV rays.

More ideas:

If you are looking for additional ideas, don’t miss the top gift ideas for 10-year-old girls here:


Susan Wells
Author: Susan Wells

Share This Post

1 Comment

  1. These are some fun ideas for any time of the year!

Leave a Reply