Introduction: Fireworks in a Glass

About: Science, Technology, Engineering, Art, and Math (or STEAM) programs at Boston Children’s Museum foster children’s curiosity, creativity, and learning as they try things out and explore the world around them.

Overview: People who do STEAM (science, technology, engineering, art, and math) ask lots of questions and make lots of observations, even if they don’t understand or have explanations for them right away. When doing STEAM with kids, don’t worry so much about the “right” answer. This activity encourages children to use their creativity, make predictions, and describe what they see-- all important STEAM skills!

Skills Focus:

  • Making predictions
  • Describing
  • Measuring
  • Observing
  • Experimenting/asking "what if"
  • Relating to prior experience

Recommended ages: 4+

Estimated project time: minimum 15 minutes


  • Vegetable oil
  • Drinking glass or glass jar
  • Small jar with a lid, baby food containers work great
  • Measur

Step 1: Supplies

  • Vegetable oil
  • Drinking glass or glass jar
  • Small jar with a lid, like a baby food container
  • Measuring utensils
  • Food coloring

Step 2: Measure Oil

Using measuring utensils, measure 3 tablespoons of oil into the jar.

Step 3: Add Food Coloring

Using whichever colors you prefer, add 4-8 drops of food coloring to your oil. What happens when the food coloring hits the oil?

Step 4: Shake It Up!

Screw the lid onto your jar. Shake your jar until the food coloring has mixed into the oil. How does it look now?

Step 5: Measure Water

Measure 1/2 cup of water into your glass.

Step 6: Combine Materials

Unscrew the lid to your jar. Explain that you are going to pour the oil and food coloring into the glass of water. Ask your students to make a prediction about what will happen. Combine the oil & food coloring with the water. What happened? Was it the same or different than the prediction?

Step 7: Watch and Wait...

Be patient. Watch what is slowly happening in the glass. What do you notice? Describe what you see. How is it changing?

The objective of this activity isn't to learn the "why" behind this phenomenon. This activity gets kids observing, predicting, and experimenting. Don't worry about the "pure science" behind the activity; focus on building strong STEAM skills instead!

Step 8: Keep Going!

After going through the experiment once, ask your kids to design their own experiments. What questions do they have about the activity? How can they change it? Here are some ideas to get you going....

  • Does it matter if the water is warm or cold?
  • Try using different amounts of water and oil.
  • How long does it take for the "fireworks show" to start? Try timing the reaction.
  • Use different types of oil.
  • Try using different shaped containers-- tall, skinny glasses or low, long containers.

Let us know what you tried in the comments! We are always looking for new, creative ways to do this experiment.