Chemistry is a key subject in a child’s education. As a parent, it’s natural for you to want your child to do well academically in any subject they study at school.
Although it’s a tough subject and kids often struggle with it at school, they actually love chemistry! When they watch what happens when you mix different substances together, it looks like magic to them. It captures their imaginations, and they want to learn how to wield such powers.
And chemistry can be an exciting and entertaining science. It depends on how you teach it. Exploring it with your kids at home can help them develop their analytical skills and might even lead them to a rewarding career later in life.
If your child is having trouble with chemistry at school or, on the contrary, they’re showing strong interest and aptitude for it and are even considering it as a future career path, you’ll want to make sure they get off to a good start.
Your main focus should be on making chemistry approachable, relevant, and entertaining. You’ll gradually learn what methods your child responds to best, and you will adapt to their preferences. You’ll also want to consider their age.
Here are our suggestions on how to teach your kids about chemistry the fun way.
Start with the Basics
Chemistry is defined as the study of matter, its properties, and behavior, and how it undergoes change. This definition may be accurate, but it does a poor job of conveying the joy and excitement that comes with learning chemistry. Chemistry is all around us, and it explains simple, everyday things like why apples get brown when we cut them open or how cooking works. It also explains magic tricks and fireworks!
One of the challenges in teaching science to children is that every subject is vast and complex. Even when you try breaking it down to its underlying principles, they can be quite difficult to explain. A better strategy is to teach kids about a subject the same way humanity as a whole learned it.
People had been using chemistry long before they could understand its underlying principles. For example, they had been making bread and beer for thousands of years. If you want to teach your child chemistry, you don’t have to dive into atomic bonds right from the start. Do it the same way humanity did: mix different substances and observe their reactions.
You’ll also want to teach them the relevant vocabulary, but you don’t have to start with Bose-Einstein condensation and plasma. Go with something simple like the forms of matter: liquid, solid, and gas.
Use an ice cube as a prop. Let them first hold the ice cube in their hand and then put it in a glass or a cup. Ask them to describe how the ice cube feels. Hot or cold? Wet or dry? Hard or soft?
After you put it in the glass and it starts to melt, point this out to them and let them touch the ice cube as it melts and turns back into water. Then you can explain that ice is water that turns into solid form when it gets really cold and that now the ice is melting because it’s exposed to warmer temperatures.
Then you can get a small pot, put some more ice and water plus the contents in the cup and bring it to a boil. Tell them not to touch it because it’s really hot but let them observe the steam that comes out of the pot. Explain that when water gets really hot, it turns into gas. Then take a bag and blow it up by moving it through the air and then closing it. Explain that gas is all around us, and it’s why balloons expand when we blow air into them.
Open the door fridge and ask them to show you where there are solids, liquids, and gas.
Watch Science Shows with Them
We live in the digital age, so kids are already used to getting information from laptops, tablets, and phones. And one of the good things about living in the digital age is that you can easily find and stream shows like Bill Nye the Science Guy or BBC’s Chemistry: A Volatile History. YouTube is also full of videos explaining chemistry to kids.
This can be a great way to spend time with your child while also helping them learn more about chemistry.
Do Fun Experiments
You’ve probably seen the chemical volcano experiment made with baking soda, vinegar, and a bit of food coloring. You could try doing similar experiments at home with your child. They usually only require a few household ingredients, and the internet is full of examples.
Make a list of simple experiments and ask them to participate. They can help you and learn at the same time by supplying the items you need, adding the right agent, and observing the reactions with you. They’ll most likely ask why these reactions happen, so you’ll want to prepare your answers before. Use the simplest terms possible so you don’t overwhelm them.
Here’s an interesting one that involves creating crystals. You’ll need a measuring cup, three small plastic cups, three bowls or plastic containers, three spoons, three eye droppers, a marker, warm water, sugar, salt, and baking soda.
Start by labeling the containers with sugar, salt, and baking soda. Put half a cup of water into the container that you labeled with sugar, and then add a spoonful of sugar. Stir it until it dissolves, and keep adding sugar until it won’t dissolve anymore. Do the same thing with salt and baking soda.
Then label the other three small cups with sugar, salt, and baking soda. Use the eyedropper to put a few drops of the solutions you made in their matching cups. Always use separate eye droppers. Put the cups in a warm, sunny place and leave them there until the water evaporates.
When you dissolve a solid into water until no more dissolves, this means your solution has become saturated. The temperature makes the substance you dissolved into the water increase, and when it cools back down to room temperature, it becomes supersaturated.
When the water evaporates, the substance you dissolved into the water will take the form of crystals, and the process is called crystallization.