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Exploring chemistry with children, plus a mother’s day treat

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By Hayley Bates, House Certifications Coordinator at Little Scientists

Chemistry. The word may remind us of school or if we are lucky, love!

But is it accessible to children? Should we, could we, or even… must we, touch upon chemistry with children?

Chemistry is part of life. The opportunities to explore chemistry with children pop up all the time.

So, let’s explore some of these opportunities, which may inspire some great ideas for mother’s day themed gifts or activities.


Baking and more importantly… baking disasters

My mother had a special recipe called lemon disaster cake. When the stove hit the wrong temperature and the cake collapsed, lemon disaster cake was the result. It is one of my favourite childhood memories – eating cake crumbs with lemon syrup poured over it. And it is one of my favourite recipes to date.

When a cake doesn’t rise, it’s a good time to look at The Why!

  • Did you forget the baking soda?
  • What is the yeast for?
  • Why do we use eggs and a whisk?
  • What happens when the oven is too hot?

Making and baking in the kitchen is a great STEM learning opportunity. Playdough and salt dough, cookies and cakes and even the washing up are all fantastic STEM opportunities. Yes, there is chemistry in there but also quite a bit of maths such as ratios, fractions, measuring and proportions.

We may use tartaric acid powder to make playdough, add a squeeze of lemon to the milk when making fluffy scones, or wonder why the bread doesn’t rise when we forget to put the yeast in.

A great opportunity to explore chemistry in the everyday arose the other day when I was baking scones with my son, but realised a little too late that we actually didn’t have all the ingredients at home.

So instead of letting go of the idea of eating fresh scones for afternoon tea, we went into experimental mode, exploring:

  • Can we make scones without self-raising flour?
  • What can we substitute for baking powder? Butter?
  • How can we make them if we don’t have flour? (we tried besan flour, milled from dried chickpeas)

Little Scientists have a great set of recipes (and experiments) you can try if you are missing ingredients available on our website.

Our house is full of little experiments that might not go to plan –

  • The taste of the besan flour experimental scones led to us making emergency berry jam to mask the taste.
  • Our foray into fairy cakes, which failed, ended up producing surprisingly beautiful biscuits.
  • And then there was the wonderful moment that the remarkably yeasty bread escaped… not only from the pan, but it crept around the sides of the oven door!

I live in the hope that one day all these kitchen-fails might lead to the invention of another family recipe like my mother’s famous lemon disaster cake. In the meantime, the cooking experiments provide great fun for the whole family.

Thinking of making scones for all those lovely mums and carers out there? You can find the scone recipe on the Little Scientists website.


Potions, lotions and a perfect mother’s day body scrub recipe

My children are in the garden as we speak making potions. That’s what got me thinking of chemistry in the first place.

One has just gone off to market them and another is creating new additions in the workshop. For a second I wish they would focus this much on their schoolwork. But then again, they are mixing potions, discussing what dissolves and what doesn’t. They are trying to find things that smell bad (apparently for potions to work, they have to smell bad) and looking for colour changes. They are learning far more than a baking soda volcano demonstrated for the eighth time would teach them.

I am planning on channelling their enthusiasm so we can explore making body scrubs for Mother’s Day.

Here is our Mother’s Day body scrub recipe:

Ingredients:

  • 1 cup of coarse sea salt or sugar
  • ½ cup of coconut oil, rapeseed oil or another oil that has a light or pleasant smell
  • Nice smelling herbs finely chopped or blitzed with a food processor
  • 1 jar

Method:

  1. Mix your salt and herbs, slowly add the oil. You want it just so the mix holds together – not too oily.
  2. Place in a sterile jar (you can microwave one for a minute to make sterile).
  3. Finish by decorating your jar and, if you like, add a fancy spoon.

For Harry Potter fans, this recipe lends itself to making stink bombs too. I guess time will tell which one your children chose to make!

 

Explore more chemistry experiments via Little Scientists at Home

In response to the developing COVID situation and the need to support our early childhood educators, we have developed a new free resource series called Little Scientists At Home.

This week we have been experimenting with leftover cabbage juice.

This has included exploring the colour changes you get when you add red cabbage juice to various powders and liquids you find around the kitchen. The children and I have explored reactions using baking soda, flour, baking powder, vinegar, lemon juice and laundry soap so far.

The beauty of this is that if you mix an acidic substance that turns cabbage juice pink with the basic one that turns it green-blue, you get wonderful fizzing and bubbles. When you mix baking soda (base) and vinegar (acidic) you produce carbon dioxide that adds the bubbles in cakes. That’s why a scone recipe might include a touch of lemonade or buttermilk, both of which are slightly acidic.

We also made lemon sherbet and chocolate that fizzes on your tongue when you eat it.

Videos for these experiments will be uploaded to Little Scientists at Home soon, so check back next week to expand your repertoire of chemistry experiments.

 


About Hayley Bates

Hayley has an insatiable thirst for learning – about everything! Her sheer joy of discovery and passion for professional development makes her the perfect person to run the Little Scientist’s House Certification program. Never happier than seeing what happens to balloons in the freezer or exploring the projects submitted by services for certification, her enthusiasm is complemented by her background in science and maths making her the ideal coordinator for our Little Scientists Houses. Hayley has taught across continents from preschool to tertiary and in botanic gardens to sewage plants.

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