Kitchen chemistry: Science fun for young children

Kitchen experimentation is an easy and inexpensive way to get children engaged in science. Here are three fun activities to try at home!

"Pretty Pennies" is one of several science experiments you can do at home with young children. Photo by krosseel at Morguefile.com.

The easiest way to introduce science concepts to children is to answer their questions with “let’s find out,” instead of giving them the information they are seeking. Children are naturally curious, with lots of questions about what is happening in the world around them.

Most home kitchens hold the tools to dozens of fun experiments to expand the imagination of the children in your life. Here are three fun experiments to try at home.

Vinegar volcano’s

Supplies required: Baking soda, vinegar and a container

Directions: Place baking soda in a dish, small cup or other container. Add vinegar and watch what happens. Be sure to have a larger “catch” container underneath, this can get messy!

What’s happening? Baking soda (sodium bicarbonate) is a base, vinegar (acetic acid) is an acid. When combined, they form carbonic acid, which is unstable and immediately breaks down into water and carbon dioxide. The escaping carbon dioxide is what creates all the fizzing as the solution breaks apart. You can take this a step further by adding food coloring to the vinegar for a realistic red lava flow, or a space age blue creation. Play-dough or molding clay can be used to make a very “real” volcano!

Pretty pennies

Supplies required: Dirty pennies, vinegar, salt and a container (glass or plastic, not metal)

Directions: Pour one-quarter cup of vinegar into a small glass or plastic container and add one teaspoon of salt. Stir until salt dissolves. Add the dirty pennies and wait for five minutes. Remove, rinse and enjoy your pretty pennies! Try cleaning with other common kitchen items. Will dish soap work? – No. What about ketchup? – Yes. Why does ketchup work and not dish soap?

What’s happening? Pennies are made of copper and they tarnish over time, as the copper reacts with the air to form copper oxide. Copper metal itself is bright and shiny, but the copper oxide is dull and greenish. The salt and vinegar solution dissolves the copper oxide, leaving behind a bright and shiny penny! Check out PBS Kids Go! Zoom Science page for a slightly different take on this fun project.

Plant a seed

Supplies required: Beans, paper towel, zippered plastic bag, water

Directions: Place damp paper towel in zippered plastic bag, add beans along the side. Zip shut and tape to a window in a sunny spot to observe.

What’s happening? The beans will sprout – The sealed bag will act as a terrarium, with condensation forming and keeping the paper towel moist. Lima beans will grow the fastest, and soaking overnight will speed them up. Seeds do not need extra nutrients to germinate (sprout) because what they need is contained in their shell. Try planting other types of beans in the same way and see what grows the fastest. Does a sunny location make them grow faster than a shady window? What if you left the bag open? This is a great activity to extend into reading with books such as The Tiny Seed, by Eric Carle, or The Carrot Seed, by Ruth Krauss. eXtension.org’s Story Stretcher Database offers an excellent Story Stretcher on The Carrot Seed with other ideas to extend your children’s learning.

Science can seem very daunting to explore with children, however, with just the tools in your home kitchen, you can easily create fun experiments and opportunities for children to learn and explore. Take time to extend your science activities by linking with children’s books. Search the web for answers you don’t know or ideas for more science experiments. Michigan State University Extension offers resources for educators, 4-H clubs and families, as well as science workshops and hands-on science opportunities at various venues throughout the year.

Although it can be hard to find that extra time to stop and explore some of the many questions kids ask, it is a great opportunity to develop their critical thinking skills and to begin learning more about science! The next time you hear, “Why does…?” take the time to say, “Let’s find out!”

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