When my almost-4-year-old announced the other day that he wanted to learn more about science (a side effect, perhaps, of watching Sid the Science Kid), we were only too happy to oblige. We had done some simple science experiments with him in the past — on the scale of freezing a small toy in a block of ice and then melting it to demonstrate states of matter, that sort of thing. But this time we decided to step it up a bit by getting a science kit.
We chose Scientific Explorer’s Mind Blowing Science Kit, which is aimed at ages 4 to 8 and contains all the baking soda, citric acid, polyacrylamide crystals, and test tubes you’ll need, along with easy to follow step-by-step instructions for 12 experiments. Yes, you could gather most of these ingredients and supplies without resorting to the kit, but it’s handy to have them all in one place, and the price for convenience is not too painful. (Between $14 and $20, depending on where you buy.)
Probably most useful to us were the experiment ideas. It was surprising to me (a non-scientist, it perhaps goes without saying) how many different experiments could be conducted with just these basic ingredients. There’s Dancing Powders, which demonstrates a chemical reaction; Acid or Base?, which tests exactly what the name implies; and Magic Ooooze, which creates a non-Newtonian fluid you can play with. Each experiment’s instructions come complete with a simple explanation of the principles behind it, so that kids can not only follow the steps (with help, depending on their age) but also gain some scientific understanding about what they’re doing.
Our favorite experiment so far is Giant Jiggly Crystals, which shows how polyacrylamide crystals absorb water and grow to several times their original size. The only downside to this experiment (and a couple of others in the kit) is that it involves waiting a couple of hours between steps while the crystals take a long “drink,” but we enjoyed checking on our growing crystals throughout the day and continuing to add water to make them get even bigger. They’re also fun to play with, as they are indeed quite jiggly and squishy.
It can get a bit messy, but it’s nothing you can’t wash off your hands and wipe off the kitchen counter. Besides, for kids in this age group, getting messy can be part of the fun. In fact, the hands-on nature of the experiments is the best part, because even if my little guy doesn’t retain all the chemistry lessons, he’ll no doubt take away the impression that science is accessible and fun, and that’s a good start.