At-Home Science Experiments

  by Erik Wolgemuth

Except for a rather small slice of society – and likely around the time atomic numbers and electron configurations made an appearance in the curriculum – science picked up a bum rap. We got bogged down in memorizing our halogens and noble gases and forgot about the simple fun to be had in experimenting. If you’ve been so scarred by sterile chemistry labs and that elusive balanced chemical equation from years gone by, you may take issue with the claim that you can enhance your dadcraft by venturing into the scientific realm. Just one experiment, however, is needed to prove otherwise.

The science-jaded gauntlet thrown, let us meet the challenge with the classic vinegar and baking soda reaction. You know what happens here; c’mon … old news. Your indifference is, however, simply Alka Seltzer-related overexposure. Think of this: one ordinary thing mixed with another ordinary thing, and the creation of something new and different and exciting as a result of the combination?! It might as well be magic to your crew.

So, grab a cup or plastic 12 oz. bottle and stick it in your sink. Drop in two healthy tablespoons of baking soda, add some warm water and get that baking soda dissolved. Then add the ¼ cup of vinegar payoff to the mix and your at-home laboratory will be off and running.

Though there’s a time and a place for such instruments as pipettes, beakers and Robert Bunsen’s burner, your home is no place for them, so push them aside in your mind. Dwelling on such will only take you back to that fearful place called 11th grade chem lab. Instead, what you need to accomplish the experiments in this series are common (with an occasional exception) household items , a few spare minutes to prep, and then simply enjoying some dazzling educational “tricks”, complements of the scientific realm.

A few keys to keep in mind as you experiment:

  1. Encourage wild guesswork about what will happen – our friends in the scientific community like to call this “hypothesizing”;
  2. Engage in each step of the process – allow your scientists-in-training to examine, smell and describe each ingredient. Doing so will make the reaction all the more exciting;
  3. Be sure to explain the result of the experiment. In our example above, while it might be tempting to rest on the overflowing frothy laurels of the introduction of vinegar to baking soda, it’s your opportunity to present the world of chemical reactions. Of a base (baking soda) mixing with an acid (vinegar) and rapidly producing carbon dioxide gas as a result; and,
  4. Encourage your young scientists to develop their own experiments that you can perform together. You’ll likely encounter mysteries that have continually baffled the scientific community, such as the effect on the buoyancy of paper suspended in water when all-purpose flour is dumped on top.*

Keep that periodic table unreferenced and enjoy getting back to the fun and wonder of simple experimenting.

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Though not much to look at, our paper flour boat was (surprisingly) more buoyant than anticipated.

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Postscript: Need your kid(s) to burn some energy after a calm science session? Consider building an obstacle course.