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Fun summer science tricks

Chances are, they're bored.

The first few weeks that school was out, the pool was a lure for your kids and a non-school book seemed a treat. But now, the kids probably just stare at you with those accusing eyes that say: "What are you going to do about this?"

To help, we've compiled a short list of fun science experiments designed to combat summer boredom or survive rainy days.

The ideas come from three books: Camp Out! The Ultimate Kids' Guide (Workman Press, $11.95); Pop Bottle Science (Workman Press, $14.95); and Don't Throw It, Grow It (Storey Publishing, $10.95).

RAINSTORM IN A BOTTLE

What you'll need: Empty plastic soda bottle.

What to do: Cut a bottle in half. Fill the bottom part halfway with hot tap water. Turn the top part upside down, cap firmly fastened, and fill with ice. Place inverted top over bottom, and watch what happens.

AN ERUPTING GOOD TIME

What you'll need: White vinegar, pop bottle, dishwashing liquid, red food coloring, duct tape or masking tape, 9-by-12-inch piece of cardboard, newspaper, aluminum foil, baking soda, paper towel.

What to do: Pour about 1/2 cup white vinegar into the bottle. Add 1/3 cup dishwashing liquid and a few drops of red food coloring. Tape the bottle to the center of the piece of cardboard. Ball up newspapers, then tape them around the bottle to make a mountain shape. Use the aluminum foil to cover the top of the bottle and all of the newspaper. Poke a hole in the aluminum through the bottle top. Wrap 1 tablespoon baking soda in a paper towel. Drop paper towel/baking soda into bottle. Stand back and watch eruption.

FERN SMASH T-SHIRT

What you'll need: Newspaper, a white shirt, cardboard, fern leaves, paper towels, a hammer, a plastic shopping bag.

What to do: Spread newspaper on a flat surface. Slide cardboard inside the shirt to prevent fern stains from leaking to the back of the shirt. Place fern leaves face down on your shirt. Place paper towels over ferns. Carefully hammer the tops of paper towels and ferns. Make sure to hit every part of design. Remove the paper towels slowly, and gently lift the ferns off the shirt. Lift newspaper with shirt, wrap loosely in a plastic bag and move to shady spot to dry. (Sunlight will fade the design.) To set the design, toss in dryer for 10 minutes.

GROW A SWEET POTATO

What you'll need: A sweet potato with signs of roots or little purple buds.

What to do: Stick three toothpicks or bamboo skewers into the sides of the potato, about one-third of the way down from the top.

Set the potato in a full opaque jar of water with the toothpicks resting on the rim. (Add water as it evaporates.)

Add a tablespoon of activated charcoal. Set the jar on a windowsill in a bright, warm place. Roots will grow, and you can plant the tuber.

SPROUTING SOCKS

What you'll need: A sock, a plastic zipper-lock bag.

What to do: Put a sock on over your shoe and take a stroll outdoors — preferably in a grassy or wooded area — for 10 to 20 minutes. Take off your socks and see what seeds you've collected. Slip your socks into a zipper-lock bag. Sprinkle socks with water. They should be damp, not soaked. Seal the bag and keep it in the sun for a few days. Seeds should sprout. Plant your sock and see if you get a mini-meadow.

PIZZA BOX SOLAR OVEN

What you'll need: A large pizza box, white glue, several feet of aluminum foil, a ruler, a permanent marker, sturdy scissors, one sheet black construction paper, 2 1/2 feet of clear plastic wrap, 4 feet of masking tape, 2 feet of string, a sunny day.

What to do: Open pizza box and glue aluminum foil, shiny side up, to all the inside surfaces of the box, except the top. Close the box.

On the outside of the top of the box, measure one inch from the edge on all sides and draw a square.

Have a grown-up help you cut along three lines of the square, leaving the fourth line along the box's hinge uncut. Fold open this newly cut flap, making a crease along the fourth line.

Open the box lid and glue aluminum foil to the inside surface of the new flap. Smooth any wrinkles in the foil as you go.

Tape black construction paper to the inside of the box.

Carefully stretch the plastic wrap over the opening of the box created by the new flap. Tape all around the edges of the plastic to seal it.

Cover any cracks or tears around the edges of the box to prevent air leaks, but make sure you can still open the box.

Cooking instructions: Place the oven on a flat level surface in the sunlight. The solar oven works best on sunny days from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m.

Place the food inside the oven. Close the top of the box.

Tape a piece of string to the outside of the foil-covered flap. Pull the string back so that the flap reflects the sunlight onto the food in the oven.

Check occasionally to make sure the oven reflects the sunlight into the oven.

(Cooking a pizza with a pita bread as crust should take about 30 minutes on a sunny day.)

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