Life is busy. I don’t have time to run to the store all the time to get materials we need for the latest kids activity.
That’s why I love using what I already have on hand, like packing materials from the latest online shopping.
It was a box full of packing peanuts that inspired this super fun (and easy) Vanishing Ghosts Experiment.
It has become one of our most popular Halloween STEM activities.
There are so many fun things you can do with packing peanuts.
I remember as a kid holding the old Styrofoam ones between my the thumb and index finger and flicking them to make them fly across the room. My friend and I would mark how far they went, stopping every once in a while to listen to the sound as we snapped them in half.
If you add toothpicks, you can use packing peanuts to make structures with cut Styrofoam. You can challenge kids to make the tallest structure, or have preschoolers use them to build simple shapes.
We had fun turning them into disappearing ghosts in this simple kids Halloween activity.
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Over the years we’ve collected tons of polystyrene peanuts. They’re fun to play with, but we had never gotten to play with the biodegradable starch packing peanuts until we found them in a recent package we had ordered.
Right away I started thinking of what fun we could have with them.
With Halloween coming up, I wanted to give it a holiday twist. I decided the packing peanuts made perfect ghosts.
This may be the easiest Halloween STEM activity ever!
Vanishing Ghosts Experiment
(I suggest to make future STEM at home easy, keep these most often used STEM supplies on hand.)
To create your ghosts, use a black permanent marker to draw a ghost face on each packing peanut. Remember, they MUST be biodegradable packing peanuts. (That means they are made of starch, not polystyrene.)
If your child is anything like mine, they will want to do this activity several times, so be sure to have plenty of little ghosts ready. Your child may even want to help make the ghosts.
Now it’s time to make the ghosts disappear with a bit of science “magic.”
Fill a small bowl with room temperature water.
Have your child place one ghost on top and watch what happens.
You will start to see small bubbles appearing on the sides of the packing peanut ghost. And then the ghost will disappear right before your eyes!
Your results may depend on the type of Biodegradable Packing Peanuts you use.
Ours dissolved within just a couple minutes. If the melting packing peanuts are taking too long to disappear, try using hot water to help speed up the process.
Why Do Biodegradable Packing Peanuts Melt?
These new packing peanuts are made out of biodegradable corn starch, which means they break down easily instead of just sitting in the garbage dump for years and years like the older style ones. The water helps break them down even faster.
Want to take it a bit further?
Turn this into a fun STEM activity!
- Ask your child to make a hypothesis about if water temperature will affect the speed they dissolve.
- Have your child use a stopwatch to time how fast the ghosts dissolve in different temperatures of water.
- Make a chart to record your results.
This simple Halloween STEM activity would even be fun to do at a kids Halloween party.
Science Experiments with Packing Peanuts
Dissolving Styrofoam Peanuts — If you have the old-fashioned type of packing peanuts, made of Styrofoam (or you have larger pieces of Styrofoam packing material), you may want to try this experiment. Discover what product you may have in your bathroom that will turn that Styrofoam into mush.
Packing Peanut Structures — This one is perfect for preschoolers. Use toothpicks and peanuts to create structures. Then watch them slowly fall as you spray them with water.
Melting Snowmen — This is our wintery take on this packing peanuts experiment. It’s perfect for winter, or the start of spring as the snow is melting.
Next time you get a package in the mail, show the kids how to fling those packing peanuts across the room.
Then use them in this vanishing ghosts experiment.
I bet it will quickly become their favorite ghost activity yet.
You may also like:
- Catapulting Pumpkins
- Halloween Party Games for Kids
- Colorful Crayon Drip Pumpkins
- Awesome Engineering Activities for Kids
This post was originally published October 4, 2016 & 2018.