Turbulence on a Plane Explained with Jello {No More Fear of Flying}

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Turbulence on a plane can be frightening for kids.  Before their next flight, show them this great demonstration with Jello to help calm their fear of flying.  Kids Activities Blog always loves science experiments that involve food!

plane turbulence2

Turbulence on a Plane

After 9/11/01, I developed a fear of flying.  In trying to overcome it, I enrolled in a course called SOAR created by Captain Tom Bunn, a pilot and licensed therapist.  The program covers every aspect of flying, from noises to backup systems to turbulence on a plane.  Although turbulence was not what was causing my fear, the imagery Captain Tom used in his program always stuck with me.

At very high speeds, Captain Tom explains, air becomes very thick.  In order to visualize this (since we can’t see air), he advises to imagine a small airplane sitting in the middle of a bowl of Jello.  If you want to see how the airplane would move through this thick air, he suggests picturing skewers pushing the plane forward.  If you tilt the nose of the plane up, the plane will go upwards.  If you tilt it down, the plane will move downwards.  To understand turbulence, imagine tapping on the top of the Jello.  The plane will bounce up and down, but it cannot fall – in fact, it barely moves at all.

As my son was about to venture on his very first airplane flight with his father, we started talking to him about what he was going to experience including turbulence on a plane.  So, even though he does not have a fear of flying, I was telling him that the plane may be bumpy at times but that it was completely normal.  I tried to have him imagine the Jello, but then thought “Why not show him?”

We went to the grocery store and purchased four boxes of orange Jello.  We washed the toy plane and prepared two of the four boxes.  Once the Jello was partially set (enough that an object wouldn’t sink to the bottom), we placed the toy airplane on top.  We then made the other two boxes of Jello and poured them on top.  (The instructions I used were basically the same ones used to put a stapler in Jello on the show The Office. http://www.wikihow.com/Suspend-an-Object-in-Jello).  This is not a quick process, so patience is a must.

The Science of plane turbulence - a learning activity for kids

Jello

Once our airplane was suspended in the Jello, it was time to see if this really worked.  We submerged our bowl in warm water to loosen it up a bit, then we flipped our mold out onto a baking sheet (for easier cleanup) and did our demonstration.

Kids Understand Turbulence on a Plane with this Fun Jello Demonstration!

Fear of Flying No More

We used a chopstick to tilt the plane up and down and even push it forward a bit.  We tapped on the top of the Jello to make the plane bounce up and down.  The Jello held the airplane in its place.  Just as Captain Tom described it, the airplane could not fall, no matter how hard we tapped on it (or no matter how rough the turbulence seems).

The demonstration was short lived, however, because once my son’s hands came in contact with the Jello, he just had to get in there and play with it.  So, after the physics lesson, this became an awesome sensory experience.  He dove into the cold Jello with his fingers (and his mouth) and was having a blast.  Our baby daughter looked on with envy, so we eventually put the baking sheet on the floor and let her have a turn as well.

Kids Play with Jello while learning about Turbulence on a Plane

Play with Jello

Most of the Jello got smushed, some got eaten, but when all was said and done, we all learned a lot.

Special thanks to Captain Tom Bunn at http://www.fearofflying.com for allowing me to share this idea.

To hear Captain Tom explain the Jello exercise, please check out his jello exercises.

More Kids Activities 

What a great way to explain turbulence on a plane!  If your kids have a fear of flying try this demonstration to explain turbulence in a way they can easily understand.  For more great hands-on kids activities, take a look at these:

Amy About Amy

Amy is stay at home mom to a 4 year old son and a 18 month old baby girl. Before becoming a mom, Amy was an elementary school teacher and has a Master's in Literacy Education and a Reading Specialist certificate. She is also the director and teacher of a local Kindermusik program. She loves theater, music, and dance, and of course, playing with her children. Amy writes Stuck Under a Baby, tweets as @stuckunderababy and can be found on Facebook.

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