Walking Rainbow Experiment

So you know when you attempt an experiment and it completely and utterly fails? Yeah, so that happened. But we were able to turn it into a fantastic study about some scientific principles. In fact, it ended up being a much better lesson than if we hadn’t messed up. Yeah for failures! Wonder which experiment? It was the very simple walking rainbow challenge. And I completely screwed it up.

Walking Rainbow Science Experiment

The Walking Rainbow science experiment should have been easy, but due to a mistake we discovered a fascinating capillary action and natural balance project.

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We are at the end of our school year. It’s been a HARD year! So I thought we would do a fun and easy science experiment that would bring a little color to our lessons and get the kids engaged and doing some fun activities. I chose the Walking Rainbow challenge.

Easy peasy lemon squeezy!

Experiment FAIL

Except I didn’t really do any research or read up on the activity. I was winging it. This was PRESCHOOL level stuff. So easy!

I grabbed 6 mason jars, Set them up in a little circle. Added equal amounts of water to each one. Then the kids added red to the first one, skipped one, yellow, skip, blue, skip. We talked about what colours were in the rainbow and learned the ROY G BIV (Red, Orange, Yellow, Green, Blue, Indigo, Violet) trick for remembering them.

Then we carefully folded up our paper towels, and placed them in our jars and waited for the magic to happen!

Walking Rainbow Experiment

A few days later our colours had hit a major roadblock. Literally, they climbed up and stopped. We waited a whole week and other than the colours getting more intense on the one side, nothing else happened.

Walking Rainbow Thou Shall Not Pass!

Research the Science!

It was as if Gandalf himself was standing there declaring:

You shall not pass!!

Never one to give up, we sat down and studied what was happening. We knew the experiment was one about capillary action and the water travelling through the paper towels. We assumed, wrongly, that the colours would mix in the paper towels, and therefore mix in the various jars giving us our rainbow colours.

Instead the clear water and the coloured waters came up against each other and stopped. They didn’t mix in the paper towels.

Interesting… very interesting…

It was time to do some research and we learned that the middle jars where we didn’t add any food colouring, actually needed to be left empty. The mixing of the colours happens when the waters mix in the jars, not in the paper towels.


We set up again and watched and waited. In a couple of days we had our rainbow colours!

Walking Rainbow Science Beautiful Color Science

Nature’s Balance

But we were curious, so we waited a whole week to see what would happen. We were rewarded with a wonderful demonstration of how the whole system brought itself into balance.

Walking Rainbow Natural Balance

I talk to the kids a lot about the delicate balances in nature and this experiment provided the perfect visual representation.

After a week the water levels in all the jars balanced and became even. Each jar had exactly the same amount of water.

I set out planning on just bringing a little colour to our homeschool room, but this activity provided so much more. The learning and understanding for my kids went beyond a simple experiment and demonstrated something I want them to truly understand.

First: Nature wants to be in balance. It will work hard to find that balance. We need to do our best not to mess with that balance.

Second: Always do your research!

Also? It really was a beautiful experiment. And those colours? Stunning!

The Walking Rainbow science experiment should have been easy, but due to a mistake we discovered a fascinating capillary action and natural balance project.

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