All children are natural scientists.
Whenever you catch your kid jumping in puddles, banging on pots and pans, or watching their ice cream cone drip slowly onto your brand new couch…just try to keep in mind that they’re simply experimenting with the world around them, and trying to learn something in the process.
Of course, it can benefit your child’s education (and your sanity) to bring some structure into the scientific process at times, as well. While you might think “chemistry” is a subject reserved for high school and college-age students, the truth is chemistry is all around us – and should be explored as early as possible.
With that in mind, here are three fun experiments you can do with your young one to introduce them to a variety of chemistry-related concepts and ideas.
1. Color Mixing
In this simple experiment, you and your child will explore how primary colors can be combined to create secondary colors. Additionally, you can use this experiment to begin teaching your child about how mixing substances together changes the physical properties of the resulting mixture.
For this experiment, you’ll need:
- 5 medium to large bowls (at least one large bowl for discarded water)
- Plastic cups (at least 3)
- Red, yellow, and blue food coloring
The directions are as follows:
- Pour clean water into three of the bowls
- In each water bowl, place a few drops of either the red, yellow, or blue food coloring into the water
- Allow your child to stir the water, calling to their attention how the color spreads throughout as they stir
- Have your child dip a plastic cup into one of the three bowls, then pour the water into one of the clean bowls. With another cup, have them do the same into the same bowl. Have them then mix the water, again calling attention to the color change.
- Empty the mixed water into the last bowl to be discarded
- Repeat the process with different colors, different amounts of each color, etc. allowing your child to see the difference after each round of exploration
2. Static Electricity Balloon
While this experiment of course deals with electricity, it’s a great way to introduce your child to the many “invisible” forces in this world – from gravity to magnetism.
You can also use this experiment to introduce your child to the terms “proton,” “neutron,” and “electron.” While this may sound a bit advanced, it’s never too early to teach your little one the basics!
All you need for this experiment are:
First, help your child cut up a few pieces of paper into tiny squares. You might need to take care of this part, as the squares need to be rather small to make the experiment easier to pull off.
Next, you’ll need to inflate the balloon and tie it off.
After these preliminary steps, you can allow your child to take over:
- Have your child take the balloon and rub it on their hair (or yours, or their siblings!). Explain that this “charges” the balloon, preparing it to be able to pick up the paper with static electricity.
- Now, you can either have your child use the balloon to pick up the papers from the floor, or you can have them “catch” the pieces in the air (you can pick them up and drop them from high up).
- Experiment with this a few times, then show your child some other “tricks” using static electricity (how it makes your hair stand out, how it makes the balloon stick to the wall, etc.).
If the water experiment wasn’t messy enough for you, there’s always oobleck!
Basically, oobleck is a gooey non-Newtonian liquid that you and your child can make right in your own kitchen with ingredients you probably already have on hand. With oobleck, you can teach your child about the differences between solids and liquids – and also show them that some materials fall somewhere in between.
For this experiment, you’ll need:
- Food coloring (whatever color your child wants)
- A large bowl
- A smaller bowl or cup (optional)
Making oobleck is quite simple:
- First, measure 1 cup of cornstarch with your child and have them pour it into the large bowl. They can play with it a bit before adding water, making sure to get any clumps out.
- If your child wants to add color, fill the smaller bowl with ½ cup of water and add a few drops of food coloring.
- Pour the ½ cup of water into the cornstarch and stir. (Note: If you used more cornstarch, just make sure you use half as much water.)
- Have your child mix up the oobleck with their hands until it begins to get more and more firm. If it’s too liquidy, add more cornstarch. If it’s too firm (i.e., it doesn’t run through their fingers a little before they play with it), add more water.
- Once the oobleck can be formed into a ball, it’s ready to be experimented with. At this point, your kiddo can stretch it, mash it, twist it…whatever they like!
Jr. Chemist Summer Camp
If your child enjoyed these quick little experiments, they’ll definitely love our Jr. Chemist Summer Camp. At this week-long day camp, they’ll use a bunch of different materials – from sand, putty, and even taco sauce – to complete a number of scientific tests and create a variety of projects.
Registration is currently open, so be sure to sign up as soon as possible. See you in the summer!