Teaching your child about chemical processes will help her understand the world better, and starting young increases her capacity of understanding. However, it is important to get the right projects for your child's age and abilities. Explore the facets of chemical reactions with some enjoyable, hands-on projects for elementary-age children. And don't forget to explain the hows and whys as you go.
Build a classic baking soda volcano. Adults need to monitor this activity to ensure kids stay safe. For a quick explosion, you can just use a 2-liter bottle or you can sculpt a volcano with homemade dough. Mix 6 cups flour, 2 cups salt, 4 tablespoons cooking oil, and 2 cups water. Form dough around the 2-liter bottle, leaving the mouth uncovered. Fill the bottle most of the way with warm water and add a few drops food coloring for effect. Add 6 drops of detergent and 2 teaspoons of baking soda. Then, slowly pour in vinegar until it explodes. For a bigger reaction, use a full 2-liter of diet soda and quickly add several chewy mint candies. The reaction is bigger and faster, so be careful. Fill a film canister half-way with water, quickly add an antacid tablet, put on the lid, and back away.
Tie a rough string or yarn to a butter knife and set it over an empty jar. Adjust the length to ensure the string hangs straight down almost to the bottom. Use a sterile paperclip to weigh it down, if needed. Boil 1 cup of water and pour into a bowl. Stir 1 teaspoon of table sugar at a time into the water until it starts to accumulate in the bottom of the bowl instead of dissolve. Stir in a few drops of food coloring, if desired. Let the sugar settle in the bottom, then transfer the liquid into the jar, careful not to let any undissolved sugar in the jar. Cover with a paper towel and set aside, checking daily on the crystal growth until they stop growing or you like the size. Remove the string from the liquid and let the crystals dry.
Mix equal parts of water and baking soda. Then, use a paint brush or cotton swab to draw or write a message on your paper. Reveal the message using one of two methods. First, reveal it with heat by holding the paper up close to a light bulb and watching the drawing brown. Or, make an acid-base reaction by painting over the message with grape juice. You can do the same experiment by mixing lemon juice and a few drops of water, writing the message, and holding it up to a light bulb. Explain how the browning is the result of the oxidation process.
Turn Up the Heat
Make a fun, rubbery dough your child can safely handle and examine. This is another activity have to monitor closely. Mix 1 teaspoon of a psyllium-powdered drink mix and 1 cup of water in a microwave bowl. Add a drop or two of food coloring, if desired. Microwave four to five minutes until it's about to bubble out of the bowl, then stop it and let it cool slightly. Then repeat the microwaving and cooling four to five times. It will get more rubbery each time. After the final time, cautiously remove from microwave -- it's hot -- and let it cool completely. It can be stored in a baggy at room temperature for a few months or in the fridge indefinitely. You can also make body soap foam up by heating an unwrapped bar in the microwave for two minutes. Let it cool two minutes before touching. The soap will still work the same as it did before and you can experiment by trying different brands and comparing them.