Sodium Polyacrylate (Insta-Snow)

~Malachi is 4 years 11 1/2 months~

Wanting to capitalize on Mali's enthusiasm and willingness to learn, I turned what I had planned to just be a fun activity into a science lesson. If your child has never experienced 'fake snow' than they are sure to love this lesson even more.

Objective: The Little Scientist will explore how Insta-Snow works and be exposed to some science terminology.

Scientific Principles Taught:

  • Sodium polyacrylate: a polymer used to make fake snow! (Aka: Insta-Snow or NaPA)
  • physical reaction: a reaction where the substance itself does not change.
  • absorb: to take in or soak up (like a sponge)
  • Other uses of the water loving polymer.
Lab Supplies:
  • sodium polyacrylate (NaPA or Insta-Snow) Powder
  • water (2 ounces of water per 1 tsp Insta-Snow)
  • petri-dish
  • portion cup
  • water dropper
  • food coloring


Explore how Insta-Snow Works

Mali put a small amount of water in the petri dish and sprinkled some Insta-Snow powder on top. (You can tell that this is his first experience with fake snow!) I explained that the powder acts very much like a sponge in this physical reaction. The powder absorbs the water like a sponge.

Erupting Snow

Cup you hands together and place 1 tsp of Insta-snow in your hands. Add 2 ounces of water and watch it erupt.

NaPA powder can hold 200-300 times its weight in water. Its amazing how much it can hold.

I love how excited he was. =)

How Much Water Can Insta-Snow Powder hold?

Or how much water can our fingertip hold? We sprinkled the powder on Mali's finger tip and counted how many drops of water it could hold. We counted 20 before it began to run off his finger.

When sodium polyacrylate is exposed to water, there is more water outside the polymer than inside, so it wants to move inside through the process we call osmosis. Sodium polyacrylate will continue to absorb water until there is an equal concentration of water inside and outside the polymer. One it was equal, it would not hold any more water so it dripped off. This concept was way over Mali's head, but it is not important for him to remember this. I was more concerned that he understood the process of absorption.

Reversing the Reaction

To reverse the reaction, we added salt.

The salt released the water in the sodium polyacrylate and made a slush.

To show Malachi that the powder had not changed in the physical reaction, we let the fake snow dry out. He could see that it was still a white powder as it was before.

Colored Snow

We experimented by adding food coloring to the water before we added it to the Insta-Snow powder.

Other uses of NaPA:

  • Soil conditioners (help the soil retain water)
  • Floral gel (to keep flowers watered but clean)
  • The same material used to make Grow-Creatures!
I bought a Grow-Creature for Mali to experience. Funny because I had no desire to ever buy him one of these before. :p

I want to stress that it is not important that Malachi remember any of the terms I used during the lesson, but that he was exposed to some new vocabulary and new experiences. And many thanks to Dylan for being Malachi's lab assistant (who I think learned just as much). =)

I have been looking at Real Science 4 Kids, Pre-level 1 for Malachi for Kindergarten science. I am looking at the Chemistry Pre-Level 1, Biology Pre-Level 1, and Physics Pre-Level 1 and I am so impressed with what I have seen so far. I would love to have something all planned out for me and then just share some of the fun things we are doing and maybe inspire others to do some science with their little ones. =)