Little Scientists: Oil Spill

We’re turning Earth Day into Earth Week! The last experiment in our series is a great way to teach children about a very serious subject, the effect of oil spills on the environment and wildlife. Children will also learn just how much effort it takes to clean up a contaminated area.

Messy level: 4 (oil clean up)
(5 = Super messy. 1 = Not messy at all.)


For the spill:

  • Medium to large clear container
  • Vegetable oil
  • Cocoa powder
  • Foil (or toy boat)
  • Water

To make the environment/animal habitat you can use a variety of objects. Here are some of our suggestions:

  • Stones
  • Small animal toys (both land and water animals)
  • Dirt
  • Ivory Soap snow (find out how to expand Ivory Soap here)
  • Feathers
  • Sand

For cleanup we suggest one or two of the following:

  • Dish Soap (Dawn works best.)
  • Paper towels
  • Cotton balls
  • Sponges


1. Make your habitat using dirt, rocks, play snow and more, be sure to leave plenty of space for water to surround your habitat. Place your animals into their new home, both on land and water. Add water to the container to make the ocean. (You can add blue coloring, but that’s optional.)

2. In a small cup or glass mix together some vegetable oil and cocoa powder. The mixture should be thick but still runny.

3. Make a boat out of tin foil. Be sure it’s deep enough to carry a good amount of your oil mixture. Place the boat in the water and fill with oil.

4. OIL SPILL! OH NO! Tip the boat over and have the oil spill into the ocean.

5. Time to help! Have your children try to clean up the spill using the cleanup materials you provide them. Be sure to discuss along the way. How well did it work? Did they think it was going to be easy? How did it affect the environment?

– from the creative mind of Miss Sarah P.

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