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

What is 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! This is not a quick process, so patience is a must.

Jello Theory - The Science of plane turbulence - a learning activity for kids
Let’s Learn about Jello Theory!

Plane Turbulence Meaning

Air turbulence is when the air around an airplane is moving up and down, or sideways. It can make the airplane shake and bump around. It can also make it hard for the airplane to fly straight. Turbulence on a plane is caused by different things, like hot air rising and cold air sinking. It can also be caused by mountains or buildings.

Turbulence is not usually dangerous, but it can be uncomfortable. If you are flying in a plane and you feel turbulence, just sit back and relax. The airplane will be fine.

What Causes Air Turbulence?

There are many things that can cause air turbulence on a plane. The most common causes are:

  • Warm air rising and cold air sinking. This is what causes the clouds to form and move.
  • Mountains. When the air hits a mountain, it has to go up and over it. This can cause turbulence.
  • Wind shear. This is when the wind changes direction or speed very quickly. This can also cause turbulence.

Airplane Turbulence explained with 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 with four pictures of plane in jello preparation
Let’s put a plane in Jello!

Jello Airplane Turbulence explained: 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

Airplane Jello Theory

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.

Video: Jello Exercises Explained by Captain Tom

What Does Turbulence Mean? and more FAQs

What does turbulence mean?

Air turbulence is the bumpy feeling an airplane gets when there is a lot of movement in the air.

What causes turbulence on a plane?

Answered above

 Is turbulence dangerous?

No, turbulence on a plane is not dangerous. It can be uncomfortable, but it is not dangerous. The airplane is built to handle the turbulence.

Can turbulence crash a plane?

There have been a few cases where turbulence has caused structural failure and crashed a plane. However, these cases are very rare. In the early days of commercial aviation, there were a few cases where turbulence caused planes to crash. However, these cases were due to a lack of understanding of turbulence and how to deal with it. Modern airplanes are designed to withstand much more turbulence than most people realize.

The airplane is built to handle turbulence and the pilots are trained to handle it. However, turbulence can cause injuries if passengers are not careful. For example, if a passenger is not wearing their seatbelt, they may be thrown from their seat and injured. Turbulence can also cause damage to the airplane, but this is rare.

Overall, turbulence is not a major danger to airplanes. However, it is important to be aware of it and to take precautions to avoid injuries.

What clouds have the greatest turbulence?

Cumulonimbus clouds are the clouds with the greatest turbulence for air travel. They are the tall, dark clouds that often form on summer afternoons. They are made up of water droplets and ice crystals, and they can grow to be very tall. The turbulence in cumulonimbus clouds is caused by the rising air that is trapped inside the cloud. This rising air can cause the plane to shake and bump around.

 Is it safe to fly through turbulence?

Turbulence can be uncomfortable, but it is not dangerous. Make sure you have your seat belt fastened and all your personal items in the overhead bin or under the seat in front of you. If you are feeling nervous about turbulence, you can talk to your flight attendant. They will be able to help you and make you feel more comfortable.

What happens during turbulence?

When an airplane flies through turbulence, it’s like driving through a bumpy road. The plane goes up and down and shakes around.

More Kids Activities & Learning Ideas 

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:

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  1. Thanks for sharing this fun kids activity in the weekly Bowdabra Crafty Showcase.

    The new showcase opens up Friday midnight and runs through Thursday noon. We hope that you share more of your kid crafty educational creations.


    susie @Bowdabra

  2. So fun and so brilliant! What a great way to get across the concept of turbulence!