10 kid-friendly DIY projects you can enjoy outdoors | Popular Science
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10 kid-friendly DIY projects you can enjoy outdoors

Take advantage of the warm weather

Get kids outdoors

DIY projects are a great way to get kids outside

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As spring hits its stride, we can all look forward to shedding our coats to enjoy the sunshine and fresh air. And what better way to take advantage of the great outdoors than with an afternoon of DIY tinkering? These 10 projects are simple enough for kids to help out with, or even try on their own. (We also threw in a bonus eleventh idea that's a little more complex.) Science geeks can even use some of these projects as jumping-off points to discuss concepts like solar energy and microbes.

A hat that flips the world upside down

A hat that flips the world upside down

In addition to splitting white light into rainbows, prisms can play weird tricks with your vision. For example, if you peer through a right-angle triangular prism, it will flip the image you're looking at upside down. Take advantage of this phenomenon by building a pair of hat-mounted goggles that let you wander around looking up at the grass and down at the sky. Just make sure not to trip over any clouds.

Photograph by Sam Kaplan

Portable garden

Portable garden

As plants come back to life after the cold winter, green thumbs may begin to itch. But not every home has enough room for a garden plot. Luckily, would-be gardeners can turn to another option: a DIY portable garden. It's small enough to fit in a corner, and light enough to bring with you on a road trip.

Illustration by +ISM

Rainy-day sidewalk art

Rainy-day sidewalk art

Lots of people use chalk to make sidewalk art. But in rainy climes like Seattle, your magnum opus will wash away pretty quickly. Artist Peregrine Church's solution was to create water-resistant patterns with stencils and hydrophobic spray. You too can craft water-repelling art on a sidewalk or driveway by making a DIY version of Church's pricey hydrophobic coating.

Courtesy Rainworks

Solar oven

Solar oven

The sun's rays don't just warm your skin. You can collect solar energy in an insulated cardboard "oven" that can get hotter than 200°F. At that temperature, food will take a while to cook, but you can bask in the knowledge that it's cooking with science. At the same time, the DIY solar oven can get hot enough to singe little fingers, so make sure to take safety precautions.

Brian Klutch

Bacterial zoo in a bottle

Bacterial zoo in a bottle

Mud isn't just fun to splash around in—it also plays host to a variety of bacterial species. A Winogradsky column—sort of like a vertical garden for microbes—lets you nourish those microbial communities until they become visible to the naked eye. You don't need to be a scientist to build a bacterial zoo. You can make your own Winogradsky column from a clear plastic bottle, mud, and a few other readily available ingredients.

© AMNH / M. Shanley

Wiffle ball cannon

Wiffle ball cannon

The outdoor game of Wiffle ball is a classic, and for good reason. But it could use a little update. Why not turn the competition up a notch? This Wiffle-ball cannon harnesses a leaf blower's power to hurl light plastic projectiles (or water balloons) at up to 50 miles an hour.

Photograph by Brian Klutch

Homemade bug traps

Homemade bug traps

Humans aren't the only ones who enjoy spring weather. It's also the time of year when insects come out in force. So while you're in the mood to build something, you might as well muster your defenses against the six-legged hordes. These three DIY bug traps, based on input from insect experts, will help you control the populations of stinkbugs, mosquitoes, and fruit flies around your home.

Chris Philpott

Swimming-pool vortex

Swimming-pool vortex

While temperatures are getting balmier, it's still a little early to go for a dip in the swimming pool. So you can put the water to another purpose: Demonstrating fluid dynamics! With a kitchen plate and a flick of the wrist, you can create a half-ring vortex in a backyard swimming pool.

A sextant made from junk

A sextant made from junk

Provided you live in an area with minimal light pollution, the outdoors are just as magnificent at night as they are during daylight hours. Before you go out to look at the stars, hack together a simple sextant from supplies you have sitting around your house. It won't rival Google Maps, but even a bare-bones sextant like this one can demonstrate how people had to navigate in ye olden dayes.

Ted Cavanaugh

Floating fire balloon

Floating fire balloon

While we're talking nighttime projects, try something that will shed a little light in the darkness. With a transparent plastic garment bag and a little fire, you can create a basic hot-air balloon that drifts through the twilit sky like a glowing jellyfish. Just remember to tether it to the ground—nobody wants to celebrate spring by accidentally starting a wildfire.

Photograph by Ackerman + Gruber

Bonus 11th project: Wind-powered record player

Wind-powered record player

This project is a little more complex than the other items on the list. But it's awesome to watch a wind-powered record player in action. (Hearing it in action is...maybe less awesome. Still cool though!) This project works best when you can set it up outside on a breezy day and let Mother Nature spin that turntable.

Brian Klutch

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