I don’t know about you, but I struggle with doing science experiments with my kids. They are always so much more time consuming, messier, and harder than I think they’ll be. As much as I want to do them, I always feel too busy, too tired, or too frustrated to actually accomplish it!
That’s why when I came across this experiment, I just knew that:
- I could do it (it’s not too hard, complicated, or time-consuming)
- The kids would LOVE it (the rainbow colors really make the project)
In addition to pictures, I also have a video for you so you can see just how cool (and easy) this walking water science experiment is for yourself!
Walking Water Experiment For Kids
I’m a huge fan of science because I think it helps us understand the world around us. And because kids are so inquisitive and hands-on, science experiments help them to get an even better grasp of how things work around them.
We have tried the classic exploding volcano and several other science experiments. And while I think they have been fun learning experiences for my boys (boys love a good mess, don’t they?), they have more often than not felt like more work than they were worth.
That’s why I LOVE this walking water science experiment! It’s just the perfect amount of work (hardly any at all), but the payout is huge.
And I gotta say – the rainbow colors are mesmerizing and so worth it!
Don’t Put it Off
I actually saw this experiment quite a while ago but put it off. Again, I feel that many experiments are so time-consuming, messy, and difficult, right?
With this one, I’m not only eating my words (ok, thoughts) but I’m also kicking myself for not doing this one sooner. It’s now my favorite experiment – seriously do it right away. Here’s why:
My Kids Loved It
What’s not to love about mixing colors together, right? Haven’t your kids ever mixed sauces or sodas or juices together to see what they look like when blended?
And honestly, if it’s not fun enough, then the kids won’t be interested which makes doing science experiments even more of a pain. I’m not going to drag my kids and make them do something that is too much work to even be interesting!
It Took Just the Right Amount of (my) Time
As much as I sometimes hate it, my “free” time is sometimes very limited. This walking water experiment is perfect because it just takes a few minutes to set up and then the fun part is in the watching…rather than taking forever to set up for only 3 seconds of cool factor.
This doesn’t take any big investments at all which I love. Simple supplies like plastic cups, paper towels, and food coloring – my kind of project!
I hate those projects that require you to buy some $20 or $30 part…and to make it worse, require tons of work with 3 seconds of cool payoff. Ugh.
No “Walking Water Experiment For Dummies” book required!
Suppliest Needed for the Rainbow Walking Water Activity for Kids
- Printable experiment sheets to help the kids with their observations and think through what they’re learning – even less work for you!
- Small mason jars (or glasses or clear plastic cups)
- Paper towels (I have tips down below to help you use the right kind)
- Primary color food coloring
Pro Tips: While you can use regular size paper towels, I highly recommend the pick-a-size paper towels because you use less for each cup. However, if you only have full sheets take extra time to cut them in half.
In theory, more absorbent paper towels work better. But, I buy cheap off-brand ones, and our water moved quickly from cup to cup, so I am not sure how vital that tip is. Maybe it goes a little quicker with more absorbent paper towels?
Watch The Walking Water Project Video!
Check out this short video I made showing you how cool the walking water science experiment is!
Walking Water Experiment Directions
Follow these directions, and you'll have your own rainbow in no time!
Print out the experiment printable. Make copies if more than one kid is doing this at the same time – it’s fun to see what the kids write down and predict!
Place 5 cups in a row and pour water in the 1st, 3rd, and 5th (odd-numbered) cups. Fuller is better, so fill them about ¾ full.
Add 5 drops of red food coloring to the 1st cup and the 7th cup.
- Add 5 drops of blue food coloring to the 3rd cup.
- And 5 drops of yellow food coloring to the 5th cup.
*NOTE: You don’t need to use food coloring in order for this project to work. However, doing so exponentially takes the “fun” level way UP! Oh, and it helps the kids to see the “walking” part too
Pro Tip: Try to use the same amount of food coloring in every cup. If you let your kids add the food coloring and they are more “liberal” with one or two, simply add the difference to the remaining cups!
*Important Note – I only had 5 cups when I did this experiment, so I had to modify it slightly as you can see in the photos. So here's what I did: I put the yellow into the last cup and then added 3 drops of red coloring to the yellow cup to make the orange.
It looks even more amazing when you can do it with 7 cups, but I wanted to show you that you can still do it well with 5 cups.
Take the paper towel half-sheet (you’ll need 6 total) and fold it in half (lengthwise) and repeat the folding process until your paper towel strip is 1-2 inches wide.
Trim off a bit of the length so that there isn’t much excess paper towel that will stick up in the air between each cup. This will help the water walk faster.
Place one half of a rolled paper towel in the 1st cup and place the other half in the cup next to it (the empty 2nd cup). Then another paper towel from 2nd cup and into the full 3rd cup. Continue this same procedure until your last paper towel drapes over from the 6th cup to the 7th cup.
Watch the cups to find out what begins to happen. It shouldn’t take long before you are able to see the colored water begin to travel up the paper towel.
You can sit there and literally watch the cups, or walk away for about 5 minutes and come back to check on it. The water will stop moving from cup to cup once all the cups are about the same level of fill.
Take a few moments to have the kids finish filling out the experiment printable – it will help bring everything together for them.
Important Questions to Ask About This Walking Water Experiment
Consider asking your kids these questions to help them learn more and think through this project:
- What do you think will happen with the water?
- What do you think will happen to the colors?
- How can water move up against gravity?
Additional Learning Points
Not only do the colors make this experiment even more fun, but it’s great opportunity to teach the kids about primary colors (red, yellow, blue) and secondary colors (made by combining primary colors: orange, green, purple).
Check out the colorful rainbow!
Why Does this Walking Water Experiment Work?
Have you heard of the process of capillary action?
The paper towel is made of fibers. Water travels through the gaps in the fibers kind of like straws (capillary tubes) pulling the water upward. The water is attracted to the paper towel fibers and pulls other water molecules along with them as water is pulled through the fibers.
These attractive forces between the water molecules and the paper towel forces pulls the water up against the pull of gravity.
For learning sake, this is the exact process that draws water from a plant’s roots to the leaves at the top of the tree or plant.
If you have been wanting to do some science projects with your kids but don’t want to deal with the hassle, the mess, or the time commitment of babysitting a science experiment, this is THE project to do. Plus, the wow factor is out of this world!
And a bonus is that it’s not just kids who love this experiment! Adults find it pretty enthralling too
In short, the walking water science experiment is SO COOL and the kids will love seeing your excitement too!
More From Made in a Pinch:
- 14 Games to Play When Bored (beyond belief) at Home
- 75+ Fun Things to do With Kids at Home (updated for self-isolation)
- Indoor Sensory “Grass” Play Activity
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