Tonawanda News

July 20, 2013

PINSPIRED: Follow the bouncing ball ... or not

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The Tonawanda News

Tonawanda News — It’s one of the great simple pleasures of childhood: those 25-cent (although it’s more like $1 now) bouncy balls from the grocery store vending machines, translucent or opaque with glitter or swirls of many colors in them. 

With a good throw, you could get them to bounce over your head, and getting a good ricochet going was a lot of fun. (Although it would generally get you sent into the yard or somewhere safer than, say, the kitchen.) My boys are no exception to this. Neither was (am?) I.

So when I saw a pin for homemade bouncing balls on Pinterest, I was intrigued. It’s not like they’re expensive to begin with, but it could be sort of neat to customize your own, or simply produce a distraction on a rainy day. I recruited the son with a budding interest in science and set up our “lab” in the kitchen.

For this experiment, you need a small amount of Borax, cornstarch, food coloring and white glue. (We used Elmer’s Glue-All.) The Borax had been tricky to find, but you’re likely to find it on the shelves of the laundry detergent area at the grocery store. It’s not cheap, either — you might not want to buy an entire box to use 1/2 teaspoon for a few bouncing balls. (If you’re set on it, though, a quick Google search for “things to do with Borax” results in many household uses, some of which just might be used in a future Pinspired column.)

We also need two small bowls. Measure 2 tablespoons of warm water into one bowl, add 1/2 teaspoon of Borax to it and stir thoroughly. Here’s when you can add food coloring if you wish.

Measure 1 tablespoon of glue into the other bowl. Add 1/2 teaspoon of the above Borax/water mixture to it. Don’t stir. Add 1 tablespoon of cornstarch to it next. Do not stir. Wait about 15 seconds or so.

Then start stirring the mixture until it comes together and can’t be easily stirred any more. Scoop it up out of the bowl and roll it between your hands. It’s sticky, gooey and just plain messy, but eventually it sort of comes together into a smooth sort of ... stuff? You can tell right when the goop turns into a smoother, more homogeneous material. Roll it into a ball. Voila.

While I was fairly aware that this was probably not going to produce a ball of the grocery-store-vending-machine sort, this is where my 5-year-old was disappointed. He gave it a toss onto to the kitchen floor ... 

Thud.

He tried again. It bounced maybe a few inches. I encouraged him to bounce it on the kitchen counter, where it managed about the same. He played a bit, but quickly lost interest — although when he returned, the “balls” had sort of settled into pools of plastic-y goo that fascinated him.

Now, as a science experiment, it’s really sort of neat. According to information found on the American Chemistry Society website, the glue contains a polymer — polyvinyl acetate — that, when combined with Borax, forms a sort of polymer net. I’m years (OK, decades) away from my last chemistry class, but it had me Googling the background information online with interest. 

So, if you’re looking for a science experiment that might just teach your kids a lesson about polymers (and already have Borax or don’t mind shelling out the money for it), you might want to give this a try.

If you’re looking to precisely recreate those sturdy dime-store balls so beloved by children everywhere ... just shell out the dollar. It’s less messy.

Jill Keppeler is a writer for the Tonawanda News. She can be reached at jill.keppeler@tonawanda-news.com. Follow her by searching for “Greater Niagara Newspapers” on Pinterest.com.

• WHAT: Homemade bouncing ball • DIFFICULTY: Easy • TIME: Couple of minutes • RESULT: Depends. As a science experiment, yes. As a reusable toy, no.