Earthquake Experiments for Kids

Instructor: Shelby Golden
Use these experiments to help kids increase their understanding of earthquakes. This article contains step-by-step directions and to find additional educational resources.

Earthquake Waves

You can use this experiment to help kids understand how the P waves created by earthquakes travel through solids. You'll need these supplies:

  • Cardboard box
  • String
  • Paper clips
  • Nails

Depending on the age of the children working on this experiment, you might need to closely supervise the construction of the earthquake box. Begin by taking off one side of the box and using the nail to make a hole in the top and bottom of the box.

Your students can then tie the string to a paper clip. This paper clip will serve as the anchor on the top of the box. Have them run the string through the top hole with the paper clip holding it in place and out through the bottom hole, where they will tie it to another paper clip. The kids should then attach five additional paper clips to the length of string in the box.

Now that the box is constructed, it's time to make some waves. Place the box on a table or desk and have your students strike the desk. Do the paperclips move, even though the box itself wasn't touched? Have them experiment by hitting the table with different degrees of force, or by moving the box to different surfaces. They can also try different thicknesses of string, different kinds of paperclips, or different numbers of paperclips.

Your students can find out even more about the waves associated with earthquakes by viewing the lessons on P-Waves and S-Waves. You can integrate these lessons and their corresponding quizzes with this experiment a closer look at how the properties and characteristics of these waves.

Classroom Earthquakes

Help your students learn more about how people try to prepare for earthquakes with this experiment. Begin by collecting these supplies, increasing the amounts based on the number of kids participating in the experiment:

  • Toothpicks
  • Mini-marshmallows
  • 8 1/2-inch disposable baking containers (1 per 4 kids)
  • Jell-O

Kids will learn more about the different types of waves created by earthquakes as they work on this experiment, as well as finding out how engineers try to prevent these waves from causing massive amounts of damage.

Begin preparing for this experiment the night before you plan to conduct it. Prepare the Jell-O according to package directions in the baking containers. You can also create a toothpick and marshmallow building of your own as a demonstration.

Get your students ready for this experiment by showing them how to construct triangles and cubes with their building supplies. Then distribute the supplies and explain the building rules.

Depending on the age of your students, you might want them to build simple creations. However, with older kids you could instruct them that their buildings must be two toothpicks high, or contain a certain amount of triangles, etc. Finally, let them loose to create their marshmallow buildings!

Once they've finished, they should place their buildings on the Jell-O pans. You can then tap the containers or shake them to demonstrate the waves created by earthquakes. How did their structures fare? Allow them to redesign their creations to see if they can make more stable buildings and then test them again!

Students can continue learning about this subject with this chapter on Earthquakes. They'll be able to find out more about the causes of earthquakes, the effects of these events and how these forces of nature are measured.

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