The List: Five awesome experiments for kids

The Geek Dad blog run by Wired magazine is a compendium of activity suggestions for gadget-mad parents and children. Here, Geek Dad editor Ken Denmead shares his top five geeky projects for getting kids away from their computer screens.

1. Video camera on a helium balloon

One of the first activities I tried was to launch a video camera attached to a bunch of helium balloons. I tethered them up with a kite-line so I could pull them back and it worked remarkably well. I was both surprised and pleased I was able to put together a little Styrofoam cockpit for an inexpensive flash camera and take pictures of my neighbourhood from 300ft. It’s a great project that you can put together in a couple of hours, allowing you and your kids to see your local area in a completely different way.

2. Lego Demolition Derby

The idea of the “Demolition Derby” was to take a couple of inexpensive remote-controlled racing cars and create a Robot Wars scenario, only easier to clean up and with less fire. You need two cars on two separate radio frequencies with Lego building plates and an equal number of Lego bricks attached to their sides. Both cars try to knock each others’ bricks off and whoever has the most bricks left on their car at the end of the match is declared the winner.

3. Measure the speed of light

Take the rotating tray out of your microwave and place a plain chocolate bar inside on a paper plate. Heat it for about 20 seconds and you should be able to see spots where the chocolate has started to melt. The distance between the diagonally opposite spots is the wavelength of the microwaves. By measuring this interval in centimetres and multiplying it against the frequency of the microwave expressed in Hertz, you will arrive at a figure within 5 per cent of the speed of light.

4. Fly a lit-up kite at night

This is a simple but enchanting idea, and great for scaring your neighbours. You can use short battery-powered strings of fairy lights or get some very small batteries, some wire and some LEDs and put it all together by hand. Put the lights around your kite, wait for an evening with a breeze and away you go.

5. Outdoor computer games

You can translate almost all of the video games children enjoy into Olympic-like challenges in the garden. This could include a recreation of Sonic the Hedgehog with croquet hoops. Or, if they’re fans of any combat-oriented computer games, you could use water pistols and tissue paper to create a poor-man’s Laser Quest.

‘Geek Dad: Awesomely Geeky Projects and Activities for Dads and Kids to Share’ by Ken Denmead is published on June 7 (Viking, £12.99)

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