Gerbils are a small creature the size of a hamster, with a long tail with a tuft on the end like a lion and the habit of jumping straight up like a kangaroo.  Dubbed “gentle gerbils” by the scientists who used them as lab animals, they soon became beloved pets.  Children have great fun playing with the little creatures and can even turn some of their games into a learning opportunity with the following safe and fun science projects to do with their lovable furry “gentle gerbils.”

For these fun science projects, you will need an empty cardboard box with sides high enough that the gerbil cannot jump out, a pencil, a notebook, and three foods to test, such as sunflower seed, carrot slice, and dry corn.

In a notebook, make three columns and six rows.  Label the columns A, B, and C.  Label the rows Day’s 1 through 6.  On the bottom of the box on one side, draw three circles (use the bottom of a glass to trace around), evenly spaced an inch or so apart.  Label each circle from left to right A, B, and C.  Place a small saucer holding single sample of a different type of food (i.e. just one sunflower seed or carrot slice, not several) on each circle.

Write down which food is in which circle and what time it is.  Place the gerbil into the box at the opposite side from the food.  Watch which food he goes to first.  Watch which food he actually eats first.  Is it the same one, or did he just sniff at something the first time, and then move over to eat something else?  As soon as the gerbil has eaten one of the food items, pick him up and return him to his cage.  Remove the saucers and wash them.  Write the results.

The next day, move all the foods down one notch (yesterday’s A becomes today’s B, B becomes C, and C becomes A).  Repeat until six days are up.  Try to do the experiment at the same time each day. What food does your gerbil seem to like the best?

All kinds of speed tests make very fun science projects and kids can be proud of their little gerbil’s athletic skill.  First, make a race track.  Use stacks of books to make the walls of a track about six inches wide and a yard long.  Line the inside with the flat sheets of cardboard to protect the books and make the wall a little taller.

At one end, use Duplos or wooden blocks to make half circle closing off the track.  In the little half circle, place a dish of the gerbil’s favorite food.  Leave the other end open.

Do this experiment about fifteen minutes before the gerbil’s normal mealtime, so that he is hungry.  Have one child help with the stopwatch  Another holds the gerbil where he can see and smell the food for a second, then walks down to the other end of the track and holds him at the “starting line.”  When the timekeeper says, “Go!” turn the gerbil loose into the track.  The first time, the gerbil may not run very quickly; he’ll be curious and want to explore.  Repeat again the next day, and the next, writing down his times.  Soon the gerbil will be running faster and faster.  Try these fun science projects with two gerbils.  See if having somebody else in there makes them run faster.

Kids can test their gerbil’s memory and intelligence with fun science projects involving mazes.  This is a great follow up to the race track project.  This time, make the track tricky.

Give it a right angle turn at the end instead of a half circle.  The turn should lead into another yard long section with the food at the end.  Repeat the experiment as above.  The first time, the gerbil will probably go slow and explore.  Repeat until he is running quickly to get to his food (again, it helps to do this at mealtime, when the gerbil will be hungry).  Next, do more fun science projects but make the track even trickier.  Make a T, instead of a single right angle turn.  Put food at the end of only one of the arms.  Then begin making the mazes more and more complex.  See if the gerbil starts to improve how quickly he learns to run straight to the food.

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