Many parents skip homeschool chemistry out of fear. I’m here to prove that chemistry is not the culprit. Somewhere along the line, we have mistaken basic chemistry for a PhD level study when it can easily be understood by a child.
Chemistry has the reputation as a difficult course of study that one takes in high school and only if they really like science and are planning on going into a scientific field. It carries this notion that it takes a very intelligent, scientific mind to even make sense of it all. That’s all nonsense.
Chemistry is not a subject to be feared. Even those who have avoided chemistry, know more about it than they probably realize. Chemistry, like all science, is everywhere. The Merriam-Webster dictionary defines chemistry as a science that deals with the composition, structure, and properties of substances and with the transformations that they undergo.
We see chemistry at work in every day experiences. We see chemical reactions and notice the properties of substances all the time. When we use soap to clean, see a cut apple turning brown, or mix baking soda into our cookie batter to make them rise, we see chemistry.
As homeschool families, we can expose our children to everyday chemistry and explain what is happening so they don’t have the misunderstanding that chemistry is something to be feared. We can show them how use it every day and don’t even realize it! It is all part of the homeschool chemistry experience.
Simple Homeschool Chemistry Activities
Try these fun homeschool chemistry activities to introduce your children to chemistry. If these don’t take the fear out of chemistry, I don’t know what will.
Marshmallows in the microwave – This is a super fun activity that kids never get tired of doing. Heat a marshmallow in the microwave and see how big it gets. Turn the microwave off and watch it deflate. What caused this?
A marshmallow is full of air bubbles made from whipped sugar and gelatin. When we heat a marshmallow in the microwave, the air molecules in the bubbles inside the marshmallow start moving faster. As the molecules start moving faster, the pressure inside the bubbles begins to increase and push on the walls of the bubbles.
The heat of the microwave, also, causes the sugar in the marshmallow to soften. So, as the air molecules push on the sides of the bubbles, the marshmallow the bubbles to expand and grow. This causes the entire marshmallow to expand. (You can also try this with Peeps!)
Mentos soda fountain – My husband even likes this chemistry activity. Take a 2 liter bottle of soda and quickly drop several Mentos mints into the bottle as quickly as you can. Then, stand back. There is a reaction between the mints and the soda that make it foam and explode out of the bottle.
Make it an experiment by varying them number of added Mentos or the type of soda.
Make butter – Let a half cup of heavy cream sit out a few hours or until it reaches room temperature. Place the cream in a quart glass jar with a tightly fitting lid. Secure the lid and begin to shake the jar with the cream inside. (This might take a while, so you might want to switch off with a partner.)
Keep watching the jar for any changes. After a short while, you should start to see a small lump in the cream. This is butter! The fat molecules in the cream are starting to clump together. Keep shaking until there is a good size ball of butter in the jar. Pour off the remaining buttermilk to use in a recipe (like pancakes or biscuits!). Spread some of your butter on a piece of bread and eat it. Refrigerate the remaining butter.
Enzyme Action – Place a piece of saltine cracker on your tongue. Within seconds, you should start to feel it changing. There is an enzyme in your saliva called amylase that breaks down the starch in the cracker. This chemical reaction is an important part of digestion. (Check out this post for more digestive system experiments.)
Teaching Homeschool Chemistry
Teaching homeschool chemistry might sound daunting. It doesn’t have to be. Especially in the early years. Here are some simple tips for teaching homeschool chemistry successfully.
- Do not fear chemistry.
- Do not teach your children to fear chemistry.
- Teach them to appreciate and be in awe of the natural world around them – including the chemistry of the world.
- Jump right in and learn with them. If you don’t know the answer, be honest. Work with the children to find the answer.
- Find fun, practical ways to experiment with chemistry like the activities above.
- Find a good science curriculum that gives your children an introduction to chemistry in the younger years. (If you are looking for a basic atomic level chemistry that elementary students can understand, try something like The Beginner’s Guide To Atoms And The Periodic Table. It was created to explain the basics of chemistry in simple terms and to fill a void that many elementary science programs leave open.)
If you don’t feel comfortable teaching high school chemistry, find a local co-op that offers chemistry or an instructor that would be willing to teach a small class. You probably aren’t alone in your area and could easily find other students that would want to take part. There are, also, fantastic online chemistry courses that are available. Don’t be afraid to try one!
The bottom line is that chemistry is everywhere. You can’t avoid it even if your tried. You might as well embrace it and have fun!