Cyclone in a Glass

Spawn a science storm with sugar, water, and food coloring. This effortless experiment will stir up your preschooler’s change perception and visual acuity.

Remember food coloring can stain clothing. So if you’re feeling cautious, wear old clothes.
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  1. 3 teaspoons refined, white sugar like this example on  Brown or powdered sugars will not work for this activity.
  2. 12-ounce glass container, one per child. You can use a glass cup, or jar, whatever’s on hand.  We like to use tall juice glasses like these to maximize cyclone viewing. Remember, always be careful using glass with preschoolers.
  3. Water, 1 cup (8 ounces)
  4. Liquid food coloring like the kind found here  
  5. Metal soup spoon like this or dull, table knife found here for mixing
  1. Skilly Spark #1: Chat with your preschooler about big storms called cyclones. The strong winds go round and round. Things get blown all around. Find out more about how this natural phenomenon happens all over the world here on Wikipedia.
  2. Add your sugar to 1 cup of water.
  3. Slowly stir in a circular pattern until the sugar is well spread out, about 5-10 seconds. Explain that you are mixing the sugar into the water  
  4. Then wait 10 seconds to let the sugar settle. You can count out loud together.
  5. Then drop a single drop of food coloring in the center of the water. 3 and 4 year-olds can help you do this.
  6. The dye will form a spinning spot on the top of the glass, growing larger as the rotating force of the water moves it down in a circular pattern.
  7. Skilly Spark #2: You can explain that what’s happening is called diffusion, or the spreading of the very small parts of liquids from one place to another.  Another everyday example of diffusion is when you cook in the kitchen and the smell eventually spreads all over your house. You can learn more about the science of diffusion here on Wikipedia.
  8. Keep watching as the color spreads slowly on the surface and through the glass. Take a peek from the top and side of your glass and note the differences.
  9. Make more storms until your little one’s interest wanes.
Keep the fun going
  • Save your cyclone, don't throw it away! Yes, this colorful water is perfectly safe to drink or can be used in other creative cooking!
  • Draw circular designs with crayons or markers like your cyclone made in the glass.
  • Get spinning! Act out the circling motion and be little cyclones.  
  • Forget about it! Let your stormy glasses sit a while and come back see what happens. Older children, 4 years and up, can time their experiment too see how long it takes for the color to spread throughout the water.