Homeschooling with… Aluminum Foil?

It’s been noted by some that I act a little like Dory from Finding Nemo and Finding Dory fame. I guess they think I’m a little forgetful and kind of distractible at times but I don’t really thi….

LOOK! Something shiny!!!

It’s… aluminum foil!!

I knew foil could keep my casseroles covered, among other household uses. And once I had kids and started scouring the interwebs for craft ideas, I came across a lot of foil-related art projects for the littles.

But, as it turns out, aluminum foil has been a surprisingly versatile supply for our homeschool studies, too!

It’s got the perfect combination of cool properties to make it useful for all kinds of projects in all kinds of subjects. Here are the areas we’ve used it most:

History & Architecture

It’s flexible but stiff enough to hold its own shape which makes it perfect for sculptures and mini construction builds. For example, we’ve used foil to make castles, swords and shields when studying Medieval times. We often use foil over cardboard for large flat surfaces (like model castle walls) for even better structural support.

Everything from Stonehenge to Willis Tower (they can change the name, but it will always be Sears Tower to me) can be replicated in foil. We’ve found colored permanent marker works best to add details.

One activity my kids especially liked was making Roman aqueducts from cardboard (suggested in Story of the World Activity Book One: Ancient Times). By covering them in foil, the aqueducts become waterproof and capable of actually transporting water from the outskirts of Rome into the City (i.e. from one end of the sandbox to the other).

Geography

3D maps can be created with foil to explore the geography and topography of the area you’re studying. Or, use foil to represent the shiny surface of water or ice on your 2D maps. Because of its durability it can be shaped and reshaped to get it just right.

Science

Foil conducts electricity very well and can be used in place of alligator clip wires in circuits as suggested here.

Because it’s reflective, it can be used to reflect light and heat. We used it to make s’mores in a DIY Solar Oven, which, to our happy surprise, actually worked! (You can find directions to make your own solar oven here).

homemade foil pizza box solar oven with s'mores

Since foil holds up in water, you can do all kinds of experiments in wet applications like testing different shapes for boats and studying buoyancy and water displacement.

Older kids can learn a lot about fluid dynamics by watching what happens to different liquids as they flow in foil pathways or hit various shaped foil obstacles. Younger kids can participate, too – just be sure to call it “water play” since people give you funny looks if you say your kindergartener is studying fluid dynamics (even though that IS what they’re doing).

Language Arts & Math

In our history and science projects, foil has been the star of the show. When we’ve used foil in other subjects like reading, writing and math it’s typically a supporting actor, not the leading role. It’s an easy, on-hand element to add to make a lesson more interesting or change things up.

For example, if the foam letters in the bathtub aren’t interesting anymore, make foil boats for them. Talking about the letters as they sail around is a phonics lesson in disguise. You can do the same with any small waterproof toys like numbers, shapes or plastic animal figures.

homemade foil boat with red foam letter Z

When it comes to reading, designing fancy homemade foil bookmarks isn’t critical to reading success but it might be a fun way to engage your reluctant reader.

And for math, tiny foil lightsabers (or just small foil balls, if you’re not into Star Wars) can be used as math manipulatives or counters. Or foil can be shaped into different figures in place of game pawns for store-bought or homemade board games.

For practicing arithmetic, wrap foil around large cardboard math symbols (like minus, plus, equals, greater than, less than, etc.) and have your kids place the correct shiny symbol into equations you’ve written on a whiteboard.

whiteboard with math equations and foil math symbols

Shiny + Different = FUN!

***

When it comes to making do with what you have, aluminum foil is a godsend. The next time you need something flexible, shapeable, durable, waterproof, reflective, reusable and/or electrically conductive, remember the knight in shining armor in your kitchen drawer and brainstorm ways it might work for your next lesson.

Any household product that can keep my dinner from burning, entertain my kids for hours and make me s’mores gets five shiny stars in my book!

Warning: Be careful when trying projects where foil comes in contact with skin for an extended period of time. We tried making foil bracelets and after a few hours of wearing his, my younger son’s wrist broke out in a rash, reacting where the metal was in contact with his skin (contact dermatitis). It went away on its own in a couple of days but we won’t be making aluminum foil jewelry anymore.

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Homeschooling with Aluminum Foil? on crumpled foil background