Science Experiments at Home: Make a Walking Water Rainbow with Kids

4/18/20 - By Rosalind Muggeridge

Nothing brightens up a day like making your own rainbow! For this colorful science experiment, kids get to create their own mini rainbow while learning about capillary action. One of our 63 Easy Experiments for Kids Using Household Stuff, this simple experiment uses only water, food coloring, and paper towels.

Read on for a simple way to bring a little bit of cheer into your house.

You will need:

7 wide mouth jars or drinking glasses, food coloring (the 3 primary colors red, yellow, and blue), water, scissors, and paper towel (the thicker the better--we used thinner paper towels and the experiment took a lot longer). But don't worry: no matter how long it takes, the magic will happen!

Step 1: The Jars

Arrange the 7 jars in a line.

Step 2: The Water

Fill every other jar starting with the first about 3/4 of the way up with water. (We used less water and it took longer, so don't be shy with the water and the food coloring.)

Step 3: The Color

Add the food coloring. If you have the 7 jars arranged in a line, add a healthy squirt of red to the first and the last jar, yellow to the third jar, and blue to the fifth jar. Only the jars with water get the food coloring. So: red, skip a jar, yellow, skip a jar, blue, skip a jar, then red again. 

Step 4: Fold The Paper Towels

Fold 6 paper towels in half and then in half again so you have long, thin paper towels. Really crease those folds! Next, fold one of the long paper towels in half length-wise so it's half the size. Depending on how tall your jars or glasses are, you'll want to cut a good inch or inch and a half off the end with scissors. You don't want the paper towels to stick up in the air too much. Repeat that step 5 more times with each of the remaining paper towels. 

Step 5: Place Paper Towels in the Jars

Put one end of a folded paper towel in the first jar and the other end in the second jar. Take another and put one end in the second jar and the other end in the third jar. Repeat until you have a zigzag of paper towels going from the first jar to the last. 

Step 6: Watch the Magic Happen!

The colored water is traveling up the narrow paper towel against gravity, using a process called capillary action. The water is pulled up through tiny gaps between the fibers in the paper towel, wicking each color up out of one jar and down into the next. The once empty jars are now filling up with the 2 colors from the jars on each side and mixing!

Find this science experiment and more ideas in our 63 Easy Science Experiments for Kids article or peruse our STEM Guide for Kids for more hands-on experiments.