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With the goal of building an awareness of chemistry for all ages, the American Chemical Society has declared October 16 – 22, 2016 as National Chemistry Week. The theme is “Solving Mysteries Through Chemistry.” Mysteries – what an interesting word. It brings to mind the unknown and seemingly unexplainable, or a puzzle yet to be solved. What does this mean for children?
In the preschool years, science is more about wonder and, yes, mystery. We encourage our very young to explore, observe, and ask questions. Once children enter school, we need to maintain that wonder and mystery as we build concrete knowledge and understanding of science. But there’s still so much they’re not ready to fully understand.
So let’s think about chemistry. We have atoms and molecules interacting in ways that cannot be seen. How mysterious is that! Events in everyday life involve chemistry. The soap that washes us clean is chemistry. The fruit that’s made into jelly is chemistry. The leaves turning color in the fall is chemistry.
Doing chemistry with your children at home does not require a vast store of knowledge on your part. There are many books on so-called kitchen chemistry available in bookstores and libraries. The experiments in these books use ingredients and materials most people have already in their cabinets and pantries.
Try oobleck for a fun, and messy, time. Just mix cornstarch and water in about equal parts and play. This compound can act as both a liquid and a solid, depending on the amount of pressure you’re putting on it. It’s called a non-Newtonian fluid.
Another cool activity involves good old baking soda and vinegar. Instead of making a volcano (also cool) or having it bubble out of a glass, try this: Using a funnel, put 1 Tbsp. baking soda in a balloon. Pour ½ cup vinegar into a half-liter plastic water bottle. Without spilling the baking soda into the vinegar, place the neck of the balloon over the top of the bottle. Then, tilt the balloon up so the baking soda goes into the bottle with the vinegar. Now you’re collecting the carbon dioxide that’s being given off instead of just watching it bubble away.
There are many more experiments you can do with supplies from the kitchen. Starting next week, and then over the next several months, we will be posting videos of science experiments on our website. Also, our next blog post will have five more cool experiments to do at home. Watch for them!