Sometimes, when the weather is cold and the kids are stuck inside, coloring books and movies just won’t cut it. With antsy kids at your side, what better way to spend the day than transforming the kitchen into a science laboratory?
Edina mom Liz Heinecke did just that. “I called it ‘Science Wednesdays,’” she recalls, of the times she’d babysit the children of a close friend along with her own. “I got each of them a notebook and we’d find different science experiments to try.”
Heinecke began scouring the Internet for kid-friendly experiments, but often found that many weren’t even very parent-friendly. Having a background in science certainly worked to her advantage, however. Her father was a physicist; she studied science and art in college, and went on to pursue and earn her masters in bacteriology. She spent ten years working in research labs at the University of Madison, the University of Kansas and the University of Iowa, before settling down in Edina 11 years ago. While doing the experiments with her own children, she began to tailor the ingredients and instructions based on what worked best for them.
“I noticed there weren’t a lot of experiments that I could do with things I already had around the house,” she says. “If you have to go out and buy materials or if it’s too hard, you just won’t do it. I had to find things that were safe and easy for the age range, from 1 to 6 years old, that would provide instant gratification.”
Those experiments included things like making rockets, watching caterpillars grow into butterflies, and other ooey-gooey projects, all dutifully recorded in the kids’ notebooks, complete with drawings, photos and notes. Heinecke created her own blog, Kitchen Pantry Scientist, in November 2009, as a way to share her own experiences with parents who might be experiencing the same science struggles. She says she tries to update every other week, often including photos and videos of new experiments, related blog posts, and links to other articles that parents and kids alike will be interested in.
Heinecke’s inventiveness doesn’t end in the kitchen. She’s actively involved in the community, taking on projects like judging the Twin Cities regional science fair in 2010, and frequently appearing on KARE 11 Sunrise to share an experiment or two with viewers. This winter, she’s teaming up with programmers to debut an iPhone App called kidscienceapp, which includes experiments set up like a recipe book. “I want parents to understand that most of these experiments are easier than baking cookies.”
As long as Heinecke has anything to say about it, science will not be a forgotten subject. “It’s about helping kids be curious and be creative. Science should be like an art project. There’s no right answer,” says Heinecke. “As long as it’s safe, let them try different variations.”
Go Ahead, Raid the Pantry
Anyone can become a kitchen pantry scientist, and there’s no better day to begin than today. Try doing “The Chemistry of Minnesota Ice,” one of Heinecke’s favorite winter experiments, the next time the kids are itching for something to do.
Glass of cold water
6-inch piece of kitchen twine or string
Step one: Drop an ice cube in a glass of ice water. Try to pick the ice cube up without your fingers by simply placing the string on the cube and pulling up. Sound impossible? Step two: Dip the string in water, lay it across the ice cube, and sprinkle a generous amount of salt over the string and ice. Wait one minute, then try to lift the cube using only the string.
Step three: The string is stuck! It seems like magic, but it’s just simple science.
Salt lowers the temperature at which ice can melt and water can freeze. The water helps the ice surrounding the string start to melt. It takes heat from the surrounding water, and then refreezes around the string.
Think about the connections that can be made between this experiment and the salt trucks outside in the winter. Salt can thaw ice at 15 degrees, and the chemicals in the de-icing trucks can melt ice even when the temperature is down to 20 degrees below zero.
Check out Kitchen Pantry Scientist online at kitchenpantryscientist.com; or follow @kitchpantrysci on Twitter.
Snow Melt Experiment
If you scooped all of the snow out of your back yard and put it in a swimming pool to melt, how deep do you think it would be? You can do your own version of this experiment on a smaller scale.
Put some snow in a clear container and use a ruler or yard stick measure how deep it is. Let it melt and measure how deep the remaining water is.
On average, 10 inches of unpacked snow melts down to around 1/2 inch of water, but you may see different results. Why? The amount of air in snow affects its volume (or how much space it takes up). When snow melts, the trapped air is released. This is why the volume of snow is greater than the volume of the liquid water it forms when it melts.
The amount of water in snow can vary quite a bit, depending on the size and shape of the snow crystals and how much air they contain. If the snow you melt isn't perfectly fresh, this experiment will also remind you why you shouldn't eat snow!