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Walking Rainbow Water Experiment; Fun Science Project for Kids

Learn how to take six cups, colored water and a few paper towels to create a walking water experiment. This is a great way to teach about capillary action.

What do kids love more than science experiments? Fun water project experiments! Water projects are undoubtedly one of the best way to keep kids occupied for long hours, but what if you could achieve more out of these activities? Experiments could easily be used to teach young ones about various educational topics. Once such activity is the ‘Walking rainbow water experiment’. If you want children to learn about color mixing and the color wheel or even about the phenomena of capillary action, this is a great way do it. 

What is walking water experiment?

The walking water experiment is a simple science experiment that demonstrates the process of capillary action, which is the ability of a liquid to flow upward against gravity in a narrow space, such as a thin tube or a porous material. In the walking water experiment, two or more cups are filled with water and separated by an empty cup or a piece of paper towel. The paper towel is folded and placed so that one end is in one cup of colored water and the other end is in an empty cup. Over time, the water will “walk” up the paper towel and into the empty cup, creating a gradient of colors as the water mixes in the middle cup. This experiment is often used as a fun and educational activity for children to learn about the properties of water and how it moves through different materials.

What is Capillary Action?

Wikipedia says capillary action is Capillary action  (sometimes capillaritycapillary motioncapillary effect, or wicking) is the ability of a liquid to flow in narrow spaces without the assistance of, or even in opposition to, external forces like gravity. This is also seen in paper chromatography.

You can see more about paper chromatography in our fun summer kid experiment where we made a coffee filter butterfly. Also make sure to check out this fun Leaf Chromatography Science Experiment too.

This project shares how colored water can climb up the paper towels and “walk” against gravity. This is a cool experiment that kids love to watch.

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Supplies needed to create a walking rainbow project:

plain paper towel for the walking rainbow
walking water experiment supplies

How to create your own walking water experiment

Step 1:

Gather the cups and arrange them to form a circle. Out of all the ways to arrange the cups this method makes it easier to relate to the color wheel.

Step 2:

Fill three alternating cups with water almost up to the brim, making sure none of the filled cups are directly next to each other.

six cups for the walking water experiment

Step 3:

Pour a few drops of red paint or food color in one of the watered cups and mix well. Do the same with the blue color in another cup and with the yellow color in the remaining watered cup. 

cups filled with primary colors

Step 4:

Take 6 pieces of paper towels and fold each of them into 2 inch strips. It is important to fold them instead of cutting them, so that they become thicker and don’t tear once dipped in water.

Step 5:

Dip either ends of each of the paper towel strips into adjacent cups making sure none of the strips are dipped in the same two cups. All the strips should have one edge dipped in water and another inside an empty cup.

Paper towels dipped in cups

Step 6:

All you have to do now is watch the magic happen! 

colored water moving up the paper towels
yellow water creeping into another cup
colored water creeping up into the middle cups

You’ll see the colored water travel up the paper towels from one end to the other. Moreover, after the color reaches the opposite end, you’ll see the empty cups fill up with colored water from each of the adjacent cups!

red water traveling from the full cup to the empty cup
water moving from full cup to the empty cup
Mixing the blue and yellow water to make green water in the empty cup

Look at the yellow colored water and blue colored water mixing to make green colored water!

colored water moving to empty cups

The two different primary colored water will mix to form an entirely new, secondary color. This secondary color in turn stains the previously un dipped part of the paper towels. This makes the paper towels show a gradient of colors with one end being a primary color and another being the secondary color. Depending on the type of paper towel you decide to use, the time may vary. 

Walking rainbow water experiment

Now that you know the process and what to expect, go ahead and gather the little ones to conduct this water ‘experiment’.

walking rainbow experiment

Not only will you see the primary colors mixing to form the secondary colors right in front of your eyes, but you’ll also see the gradient of colors that form in between.

Now that we’ve learned a little about creating different colors with water, you can learn more about rainbows and how to draw them here!

Also check out some cool Rainbow Crafts for Kids.

rainbow crafts for kids

Once you’re done with the experiment you could arrange the cups or the paper towels to form the color wheel and further teach and learn about color mixing.

walking rainbow experiment

The paper towels could also be kept as a keepsake or as a material to use for another craft project!

colored paper towels seperated
colored paper towels
walking water experiment

I hope you’ve enjoyed this easy Kid craft and an educational science experiment.

Happy Crafting!