Hands-On Learning: Candle Race


So… Molly’s on the mend. Amazingly, nobody else got sick this past week, which was such a blessing as Molly was the sickest she’s ever been. Dehydrated, on anti-nausea medication just to get a few sips of water down every eight hours or so, and lots of sleeping. She’s a bit thinner, but back to her usual cheerful self:




Because we’re just getting back into a routine again, I thought I’d leave you with a fun science experiment we tried recently so Molly could learn a little bit about fire, and Trevor could practice following directions, leading his sister, and working with candles in a safe way. And, honestly, what nine-year old boy wouldn’t love to be in charge of a lighter and three candles??




Each of my kids has their own “Science and Nature” journal. Trevor’s is a spiral bound sketch book, Logan’s is an inexpensive 70-sheet spiral notebook from the back-to-school sales, and Molly’s is this composition book. I have a hard-back artist’s sketch book that has travelled with me to and from countless hikes, writer’s workshops, nature walks, science programs, museums, etc. I’ll talk more about keeping a science notebook in another post, but suffice it to say that I believe it is essential for kids – homeschooled or not – to have a record of things they try. Looking at the world like a scientist is a lot like looking at the world as a kid. A journal of those observations from childhood could sow the seeds of a future cure or invention…

To join us in a “Candle Race,” you’ll need:

  • Three votive candles
  • A lighter
  • Three paper plates
  • Two different-sized glasses
  • Science journals
  • Adult supervision Smile




Logan slept through this activity, so there’s an empty seat at the table, but in the picture above, Trevor and Molly have a votive on each plate, a short glass covering one, a tall glass covering another, and the final candle is left uncovered as a control.

Before lighting the candles, ask your kids to write the date, name of the experiment, and then draw a picture of the set up in their journals. You could have them write each step they do to complete the experiment too if you want to reinforce the scientific method. Here, I chose to have them draw instead.

Ask them to predict which candle will go out first, second, and third once you light them, and record their predictions in their journals.




Once you’ve ignited the candles, replace the glasses and watch the race…




Which candle went out first? Last? Was your prediction correct? Why or why not? Ask your kids to reflect on these questions, then talk about what a fire needs to burn: fuel, heat, oxygen.

Then, we talked about why the flame went out faster in the shallow glass than the tall glass – less oxygen to feed the flame. Both Trevor and Molly keep asking when we can do this again using different type and sized glasses… It was quick, easy, and demonstrated a science understanding in a memorable way – our favorite type of learning!

Let me know if you try it… and we’ll let you know if we do anything else with fire around here. Have a great week!