Science of how things work, air pressure (pt 3)

I’ve shared a couple other ideas of activities the kids can do at home to help them understand and make some observations of their own about air pressure. My goal here is not to give them a scripted science lesson that you can check off on a box for your state’s curriculum requirements. The idea is to give a little bit of an explanation for what air is, to let them do some activities so they can see some of the things they are learning about air in action, and then to work out for themselves some answers to some questions that will help them understand “Oh, that’s why that happens!” around the house.


I find it helpful to think about air like water- if we lived under water, like a fish, and we opened a can and it instantly filled with water, we wouldn’t say, “Oh, the can sucked the water in.” We would say that the water rushed in to fill the empty space in the can. When a submarine gets a hole in the side and fills with water, we don’t picture that as something sucking the water in, but as the water rushing in to fill a space newly opened to it.


From a vintage science book:

“We live in a sea of air, and the air is pressing all around us, but it does not press equally all the time and everywhere. This is because the weight of the air changes with that we have  winds. Naturally, if the air is pressing harder in one place than in another, the lower air will be pushed sidewise in the areas of high pressure and will rush to the areas where there is less pressure. And air rushing from one place to another is called wind.”

Thinking about what you now understand about air pressure, you can come up with answers to other questions.  How do squirt guns work?  How about spray bottles and pumps? What makes water faucets work?

What is inside tires? How does that work? Why? Try putting a washer, or a small toy car, on top of a flat balloon. Then blow up the balloon. Try sitting on a chair and then sit on one of those exercise balls or a bouncy toy (like this).  These are examples of compressed air.  Why would we want that in our tires?

When I am in the back of the house, I can tell when somebody has walked in the front door even if I don’t hear them- the foam tiles in my ceiling shift ever so slightly, as the air pressure in the house equalizes.

When I put a straw in a can with a carbonated drink, the straw often rises.  Why?

What are some other examples you and the kids can think of?  What are some ways you could use what you know about air pressure?

Here’s one that I think would make a fun art project- put a few drops of food colouring in the water and blow towards your art paper.  But my suggestion for the early years is to spend less time talking about Bernoulli, and not too much time talking at the children at all- do, observe, think, discuss together.  Later, they can fill in the web of knowledge with more knowledge, because the more you know, the more you can know.

When the children are younger (especially 9 or so and below)- as much as possible what they learn about science should be learned by doing, observing, thinking.  Much of the important doing happens in playing, and there should be a lot of real play with real things- mud, trees, rocks, sand, water, leaves, seashells, grass and more. Around five or six, generally speaking, add some regular practice with more focused doing, like the activities suggested herehere, here, and also here.

Supercharged Science has some great ideas for science discoveries your kids can make at home.

The activities here are fun and interesting.

Resist the urge to turn this into a worksheet, a unit study, or the basis for memorizing terms like velocity, atmosphere, or people like Bernoulli, at least before your kids are in the fourth grade or more.

Think of it as a continuation of the experiments they began as infants when they dropped objects on the ground to watch them fall (and watch you pick them up), and when as toddlers they used bathtime to learn something of the properties of water without ever knowing anything about the terms ‘properties of water’ or liquid, or surface tension or bouyancy.

Take this (from a biography of Rev. Dawes, 19th century Rector and school master) for your goal:  “to teach them to observe for themselves the objects of common daily life, and to inspire them with an intelligent and thoughtful curiosity.”

Charlotte Mason Education in the younger years.


More in this series at The Common Room Blog

Air Pressure, and Charlotte Mason Science in the early years

Air Pressure: Lawn Mowers and Straws

Air Pressure, suction cups, juice cans, and water glasses upside down

Air pressure: eye droppers, canning jars, sea of air, more

syringes, squirt guns, turkey basters

Show that an empty bottle is not truly empty

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