Spinning Penny

Balloons are always fun but balloons with objects inside are even better! And this particular version has some science thrown in, too.

To start, we wanted to see how an object would move inside a balloon, which means clear balloons are definitely best for this project. Before inflating, add a penny (or similar round metal object). Inflate and tie a knot.

Now give that balloon a shake! You want to shake in a tight, circular motion to get the penny rotating. Even once you stop, the penny will “climb” the walls of the balloon in a circular motion. Travis was thrilled that he could make this work all by himself!

The penny can seemingly defy gravity in this way because as soon as the balloon is spinning, the force of the penny pushes outward. It will stop after a few rotations, but was so much fun for Travis to watch, plus made an echoing bouncy sound.

We intend to try this with other objects in the balloon, too, and see whether they work better or worse than the penny. Here’s the quickest of quick clips:

Magic Inflating Balloons

It turns out that helium isn’t the only gas that can inflate balloons. You’ll wow your kids with a bubbly explosion of baking soda and vinegar for this “magically” inflating version.

To set up, I first added white vinegar to an empty water bottle, using a funnel to avoid spills. Set aside over a tray.

Slip the end of an uninflated balloon onto the funnel and add baking soda (I didn’t measure, but we probably poured in about 1/4 cup. Now carefully fold the lip of the balloon over the top of the bottle, but make sure you don’t upend the baking soda just yet.

Stand the balloon upright so the baking soda pours down into the vinegar, then be ready for the reaction. As the baking soda and vinegar react to create gas, the balloon inflates.

This made for such a bubbly, fizzy, dazzling reaction! I worried that the balloon might pop off the bottle if there was too much pressure that built up, but luckily this didn’t happen. Still, I was glad we had a tray underneath the experiment, just in case.

Travis was thrilled when he put his arms around the inflated balloon at the end, almost disbelieving that we’d blown it up so big. Just be aware that this isn’t the best balloon to knot off and play with after, as some liquid will remain inside.

Helium Balloon Fun

Who says balloons are just for birthdays! The helium tank in our garage had some leftover gas from back in the fall, and our gray February staycation day needed a boost; what better way to lift the spirits than balloons!

To start, I simply inflated a few balloons for Travis and Veronika, and attached strings that they could easily reach. I showed Veronika how to tug on the string so the balloon came down to her…

…and then to let go and watch it bop back to the ceiling!

This alone was a delight for a while.

Next we drew puppy dog faces on them. Now the balloons were little friends to take for a walk on a “leash”. Travis turned another one into an alien!

The kids were soon running around, chasing after, and bopping their balloons in glee.

We set them aside for a while, and when we returned, there was just enough less helium that now they hovered in midair. This was double the fun, with the kids setting them to hover and pretending they were making lunar landings on the moon!

I loved seeing their joy for one of the simplest toys out there. Never underestimate a good old balloon.

Indoor Baseball

Veronika played her first round of baseball today! Okay, perhaps not really, but here’s a version of the sport that works even for toddlers.

The inner tube from a roll of gift wrap makes the perfect, soft baseball bat for young children. I secured it at the ends and the middle with duct tape for durability, and then for the safest baseballs ever, I simply inflated a few balloons.

Now all we needed were cushions as the bases, and we had the whole baseball diamond!

Of course your toddler won’t understand the rules yet, but Veronika loved taking swings with the bat. Or just bopping the balloons along on the ground with it!

You can also practice tossing the balloon in the air and keeping it up with the bat.

She was an enthusiastic participant when I showed her how to run from base to base, too, even if she didn’t quite understand why. Don’t forget to shout “home run!” when you complete the circuit.

In sum, this is a fun way to introduce the sport of baseball to your two-year-old, plus you’ll get out some energy in the process!

Balloon Art

We’ve painted with a balloon before, but today Veronika had a chance to paint on a balloon. She absolutely adored this simple art project.

I covered the floor with scrap paper to catch any mess and then set out uninflated balloons and little cups of paint. Veronika always asks for yellow, and this time wanted to add dark blue and light blue!

She immediately started painting the paper, but I showed her how to paint on one of the balloons instead. She loved it! She narrated all her color choices to me as she worked. “A little pink. Now let’s add a little blue…” It was like watching a miniature Bob Ross.

At first we only worked on light-colored balloons (whites and yellows) but she spotted a black one in our pack and wanted to paint on that. The color contrast looked quite neat!

When she seemed close to tiring of the craft, I inflated one of the balloons. (Note: Be careful that there is no wet paint at the rim before you blow it up). I wanted to show her how the smears of paint would now spread and thin out.

For the best contrast, make a few of the uninflated balloons with only small dots which will become more like blotches once inflated.

I thought she might want to switch to using the balloon like a paintbrush once it was blown up, but now she wanted to paint on this big bubbly canvas.

The colors started mixing now that she’d dipped her brush in all the cups several times, and she took such delight in it. “I have yellow. I have blue… I have green!” An early lesson on color mixing!

Again, she narrated her painting to me and kept it up for quite some time.

If your child wants to play with the balloons, set them aside on paper plates to dry completely first, and then it’s time for a round of painty balloon tennis!

Flying Balloon

There’s some neat science behind making a balloon fly with a hair dryer, whether the push of the air on the balloon that directs it up, or using “fins” to catch the air and make the balloon hover and spin. But truth be told, Travis and I went light on the science this morning, and more just had fun because, well, balloons + hair dryers = excitement!

Travis was stoked when he saw me pull out the hair dryer for an experiment. After I inflated two balloons, he just liked scooting them along the floor with a flow of air.

Meanwhile, I rolled two pieces of construction paper into tubes, securing with tape. Cut the bottom into fringe and then tape onto the balloons. These will act as weights for the balloons.

If you want the balloon to spin as well as fly, you’ll need to add fins. Cut strips of construction paper, then fold in half. Bend the ends, so they make little tabs.

If you’re going for exact science, you’ll need to wind string around the center of the balloon to mark the equator, then draw two meridians (the horizontal and vertical lines that intersect the equator) with a sharpie. Glue your fins along this equator at a 45 degree angle.

Well, we weren’t that exact. We just used double-sided tape to add the fins in a circle roughly near the balloon’s center.

So… it wasn’t perfect, but it did get some spin and some air. It was unfortunately difficult to hold the camera and the hair dryer and launch the balloon, so we never got great photos or videos.

But we did have fun!

Balloon Tennis

Here’s a game that you can easily adapt for just about any age, from toddlers to big kids!

To make simple tennis paddles, trace around the top of a craft stick on the back of a paper plate. Make two slits, one spaced near the top of your tracing mark and one near the bottom.

This way, you can thread the craft stick through for a sturdier handle. Add masking tape for extra insurance!

Now blow up a few balloons and it’s time to play.

For toddler Veronika, the joy was simply in tossing balloons her way and seeing if she could bop them back with the paddle. “Whap!” she said, every time she chased after a balloon.

Older toddlers might enjoy the challenge of trying to bounce the balloon up and down on their paddle without letting it hit the ground, but this skill was beyond Veronika.

Still, she loved the game since we added music in the background to add to the enjoyment!

For even older kids, turn it into a tennis rally!

Travis and I hoped to get to ten, but I think the most we ever managed was 5!

Inevitably that balloon bopped away, but we had a fun time in our attempts.

Balloon Fun

I’m of the firm opinion that balloons are not just for birthdays. To wit, here was a fun way to play with a few on a random rainy morning!

I blew up about five balloons, which of course is half the fun right there. Veronika loves to pretend she’s blowing them up with me. (Note: always supervise balloon play closely, as they can be a choking hazard).

I then hung each balloon from a string and suspended them from an archway. Give your child a wiffle bat and let the balloon bopping begin!

Veronika took a few swings, but then honestly preferred just walking underneath them. She loved the way they bounced on top of her head.

We invited big brother Travis over, but one whack of the bat took them all down from the ceiling – whoops! So perhaps you’ll want to save this one for younger toddlers.

Activity Course with Balloons

I recently took apart the alphabet mat that’s been in the kids’ playroom, but before stowing it away, I realized it made for a great indoor obstacle course. Leftover balloons from a birthday party only added to the fun!

I set up sections of the alphabet mat in lines, so they were close but not touching. I then added a few other items good for gross motor skills like a play tunnel and hula hoops.

Veronika immediately wanted to walk along the mat…

…but now I added to the challenge. The kids had to make it from start to finish while holding a balloon the whole time!

At various intervals I had them stop to do an action, like jumping in place 3 times, spinning 3 times, or chasing a balloon through the play tunnel.

There was even a section to transport the balloon across a longer gap in the mat via dolly carriage.

It turned out that big brother Travis enjoyed the physical challenges more than my toddler, and in retrospect the direction-taking involved was more suited to older kids. But Veronika still had fun!

Patriotic Balloons

Even if your family can’t wave balloons at a real parade this year, I loved this idea (spotted in Country Living magazine) to make easy patriotic balloons for fun at home.

I blew up big blue balloons (and red or white ones would obviously also work), then added the letters U, S, and A out of star stickers.

You can use small office star stickers, but we found big sparkly ones that added to the fun.

While I decorated a few balloons in this way, the kids loved adding stickers to a few extras. Stars all over!

We can’t wait to wave these at home while we watch the virtual fireworks.