Tuesday, December 4, 2012

Weird Science

Lately I've been catching Charlie and Michael in the act of doing a lot of science experiments. What that means is that I find them quietly hiding out somewhere in the house with a bowl full of water, mixing in whatever ingredients they can find (steal) from around the house. These might be torn up bits of paper, some shampoo from their bath, food they've nicked from the pantry, and the like. I'm ashamed to admit that because I hate finding stuff like this spilled all over the rugs, my reaction to these healthy expressions of natural childhood curiosity are often less than encouraging. After school the other day, I realized that I needed to adopt more of a can't-beat-'em-so-join-em kind of attitude, and set them up with supervised science stations in the kitchen while I started making dinner.
In addition to a big bowl of water, I gave them each an egg carton with several different ingredients, and let them do their thing. Above, clockwise from top left are little pots of rice, lentils, sesame seeds, flour, coffee, and baking soda.
As they started to mix things into the water, I asked them to notice how the different ingredients behaved once they got mixed into the bowls. Did they sink (like coffee)? Or float (like sesame seeds)? What colors did they see in the water? Charlie noticed a shiny coating on the water's surface, and I told them about the oil from the coffee beans, and how it floats on top and shines.
The coffee made the water so dark, that soon they wanted to start with fresh bowls, so they each got one, to which we added some food coloring. I was SO happy the other day in the grocery store when I found this food coloring, which is made from plant and flower extracts, rather than the petroleum based chemicals that I still can't believe are in so many foods in the U.S. (In fact, so much of the candy and dyed foods I found over here use natural dyes, and I'm really baffled as to why American manufacturers haven't followed suit.)
After making basic observations about which primary colors blend to make which secondary colors, we started to add other ingredients to the water. Some vegetable oil was first, which made pretty patterns of blobs and bubbles. Next we added a few drops of soap, which made the bubbles run and hide, or cling to each other as if they were afraid of the soap.
I particularly loved this mossy green color that Michael got by mixing yellow and blue. 

As the days grow shorter (its getting dark by 4:15 here now), I'm looking for more moments and ideas like these to occupy my boys in the hours after school, when trips to the playground aren't so feasible anymore. As we've yet to break down and buy a t.v. since we've moved here, (but maybe after Christmas, so we can watch movies together), I'm needing to remind myself that the space for play with my kids needs more attention and inspiration than it used to. And that to get the ideas I need for creative interaction, I only need to follow their lead.