Crystal Chemistry Tree Crate

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Of all the holiday projects from Kiwi Co this year, this was by far Travis’s favorite. You can follow along on this project with materials from the craft store and drugstore; do supervise very closely, as chemicals (ammonia in particular) are involved. But the result is stunning!

To start, we needed to prepare the planting pot. Insert a plastic cup into a silver cup, and decorate with the provided red ribbon for a festive touch. The tree is two pieces of cardboard that slot together. Travis “planted” this firmly.

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He loved the felt ornaments to hang on the tree!

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As a final decoration, twist together three silver pipe cleaners, and arrange as a star on top.

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Now it was time for some science. I poured the bluing solution into the plastic cup first. A bluing solution is potassium nitrite and sodium hydroxide dissolved in water. Travis was a good sport listening to all the safety cautions about handling these chemicals

Next I poured in the provided ammonia. He was not a fan of the smell! Finally, we poured the provided salt packet evenly around the tree.

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Use the provided pipette to drip the solution over the tree branches until saturated.

Only an hour later, I noticed that already a few little sparkles had appeared. Travis went to bed full of wonder at how it might look in the morning.

To be perfectly honest, I’d forgotten about it when we came down for breakfast. “Mom, look!” he called out. I, too, was stunned with the white frosty crystals blooming all over the branches.

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One note of caution: the crystals are very delicate and will fall off at even the tiniest budge, so have your tree some place up high where it won’t get jostled.

Over breakfast, read about what happened. The cardboard soaks up the solution (so a plastic tree, for example, wouldn’t work here), but the liquids evaporate overnight as gases. The salt can’t do this, so it is left behind. Ammonia is present because it helps the evaporation happen faster. And voila – a chemis-tree!

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Crystal Suncatcher

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This neat science project will require a few days of patience, but has a beautiful ice crystal reward at the end, perfect for winter!

To start, poke a hole through the rim of a clear plastic container (we used the top of a Pringles canister) with a needle or push pin. Make slightly wider with a pen or pencil, then set aside.

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In a microwave safe bowl heat 1/2 cup water for about 45 seconds, or until warm. Add 1/2 cup Epsom salts, stirring until dissolved. Travis loved making this “potion”.

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Fill the container lid with the salt solution and set someplace that gets a lot of sunlight. Now wait! Here’s how our crystals looked after 24 hours:

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And now after 48 hours!

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The science here is fairly simple. When you stir the Epsom salt into the hot water, it doesn’t disappear of course; it dissolves. But when the water evaporates off, the Epsom salts are revealed again. Hence the beautiful crystals!

To capture your experiment into a work of art, cut the rim off an identically sized lid (again we used a Pringles container). Hot glue them together carefully so as not to crush the crystals.

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Thread a length of string or yarn through the hole you poked in the beginning. I worried we might crush the crystals because our hole was quite tiny, so we hot glued on our string instead, which works in a pinch! Now it looks like Jack Frost has come to call at our window.

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Fruit Ripening Science is Bananas

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Just before Halloween, Travis made Boo-Nana Bread form Raddish KidsSpooky Kitchen crate. Now we’re finally getting around to the fruit-ripening science lesson attached to it!

Before anything else, we needed to set in motion an experiment that would take 5 days. I purchased a bunch of (fairly) green bananas at the grocery store, as well as a few riper ones.

Ask your child to describe the differences they notice between the ripe and unripe bananas. Travis pointed out the obvious color difference, first. A little probing helped him go deeper: the ripe ones were softer, and smelled sweeter.

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I asked him if a banana needed anything other than itself to ripen. Somehow he knew it needed air (oxygen). Smarty pants!

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But for scientific backup to this hypothesis, we experimented by placing the following:

  • 1 green banana out on the counter
  • 2 green bananas in a paper bag, folded up tight
  • 1 green banana and 1 ripe banana (for ethylene) in a paper bag, folded up tight
  • 2 green bananas in a sealed plastic bag
  • 1 green banana wrapped in layers of plastic wrap

That last was Travis’s favorite, pretending we were making a banana mummy!

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Meanwhile, it was time for a little science behind the lesson. I set out two plates for him, one featuring non-climacteric fruits i.e. they do not ripen after picking. Raddish provided a long list to choose from, and our plate included: a bell pepper, blueberries, cucumber, orange, and yellow squash.

The second plate had climacteric fruits i.e. ones that do ripen after picking. This plate held an avocado, a pear, and a mango.

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“Can I eat it,” he asked right away of the mango. “Is it ripe?” At first he was stumped about how I had categorized them, guessing I had sorted them by color. But hmm, why wasn’t the cucumber on the green plate?

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I loved watching him really ponder this! I guided him back to his very first comment about the mango. Was it ripe? Now he understood that one plate held fruits we needed to wait for; the other plate was fruits that wouldn’t ripen further after picking.

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Time to explore! I let him have at the food just for fun. He loved peeling the squash and taking little nibbles of it, plus practicing his knife skills on the bell pepper…

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…and crunching into the cucumber for a big bite.

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He decided to wait until the mango was riper before peeling it. Good choice! Plus he gave the unripe avocado a big squeeze and it was solid as a rock.

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Five days later, we finished with a little more science now that we had our banana results. Our finding weren’t quite as promising as hoped, likely because I had to start with green bananas on the verge of yellow and a yellow banana on the verge of green, based on what the grocery store had to sell. But we still could see that the countertop banana was the brownest/ripest and the plastic bag bananas had retained the most green.

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Interestingly, our plastic-wrapped banana had gotten quite ripe, so we must not have made the “mummy” tight enough.

The green bananas in the paper bag had ripened faster than the ones in plastic, since the porous paper gives them access to oxygen. But the one that also enjoyed the company of a ripe banana had both oxygen and extra ethylene, so that was riper still.

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Enough science; as it turns out, leftover bananas are lots of fun to play with, even for little sister!

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We enjoyed one final video of a similar experiment done with supermarket food. If your kids loved the banana experiment, try out an avocado one!

Travis and I also decided to check out the suggested book Science Experiments You Can Eat, by Vicki Cobb. We read through a couple of the experiments, but didn’t actually put any to the test.

Solar Eclipse Science Project

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I put together a simplified version of this box back when there was a solar eclipse in our area in 2017. Today we wanted to see if the box would work for Mercury’s transit across the sun, and now Travis was old enough to help with all the steps!

To start, we upcycled a Kiwi crate (though any shoe box would work). Measure 2 inches in from one edge and poke a push pin or thumb tack through for a small hole.

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On the opposite side of that same edge, measure in 1/2 an inch and cut a square that is 2 inches on each side.

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Cut a square from black paper that is 2.5 inches on each side. Travis loved cutting along the lines I measured with our ruler.

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Trace the inside of a small roll of tape in the center of the black square, and cut out this circle (a mommy step).

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Tape down on the inside where you’ve cut the viewing hole.

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Next cut a rectangle from white paper that is 10.5 inches long x 3.25 inches tall. Use double-sided tape to attach on the inside of the box opposite the viewing hole.

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Now cover any seams or cracks with tape. Travis took it very seriously to ensure that we had no points where light could filter through.

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We peeked inside in the kitchen, but if course there was only darkness without any sunlight coming through our tiny pin prick.

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The answer to our initial question (would the box work for Mercury), alas, was no.

Mercury entered its transit across the sun the next morning at 7.30, but it was so cloudy that the sun wasn’t visible all day! Further research suggested that Mercury would be much too tiny to spot in our viewer anyway, and what we really needed was a telescope with a proper sun filter. Instead, we checked out the transit online. And now we’re going to set aside our solar eclipse viewer for the next one… in 2024!

Rainbow CD

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If a gray day has you wishing for rainbows, make some at home with this easy craft! It’s just one of several ways Travis and I have made light after dark, lately.

We made our project a bit whimsical by turning it into a sort of “hunt” for the rainbow at the end of a pot of gold. That meant we wanted to decorate our CD with shamrocks. To make them, use a heart-shaped hole punch.

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For every shamrock, fit 3 hearts together into a clover-shape. Tape the hearts to the back of a blank CD.

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Now head some place dark, and shine a light!

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Travis loved holding the flashlight and seeing the rainbows appear on the wall. We experimented with different angles; if he held the light directly over the CD, the rainbow was like a laser line on the CD itself.

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If he held the light close to the floor, the rainbow appeared on the wall, growing bigger or smaller as he altered the angle.

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Note: there’s no need to decorate your CD to make this craft work, but it does add a nice touchy of whimsy!

Cranberry Chemistry

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The cranberry harvest has hit the shelves, making it the perfect time of year to experiment with this under-appreciated berry. Okay, so this quick science trick uses cranberry juice, not whole fresh cranberries, but it’s still a fun seasonal project for kids!

I set up a few test tubes about 1/3 of the way full with cranberry juice and laid out baking soda and lemon juice.

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First, Travis added 1 teaspoon baking soda to one test tube. It fizzed instantly, always the most exciting part.

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When the bubbles settled, the cranberry juice was noticeably more yellow.

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ow add 1 teaspoon lemon juice (or citric acid) to the same test tube. It will return (almost) to the original color. The color became sort of striated in ours, so the return to normal was clearest near the bottom of the tube.

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The science at work here is base (baking soda) first neutralizing the anthocyanins in the juice, and then the acid returning it to normal. Travis had fun simply experimenting from there! He thought we might make it extra yellow by adding 2 teaspoons baking soda (that one was really fizzy!).

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Next time, we’ll think of other solutions we can add, like soda or baking powder.

Unpoppable Bubbles

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There’s some serious “wow” factor to this little bubble experiment, the perfect way to turn a ho-hum morning into something special!

To make the bubble solution, pour 1/4 cup water into a container. Add a little blue food coloring just so it’s easier to see.

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Stir in 1 tablespoon dish soap and 2 tablespoons corn syrup.

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A straw will be your bubble blower, but the secret now is that you also need a pencil.Travis dipped the pencil tip in the solution, as I dipped in the straw and blew a bubble.

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He poked the saturated pencil tip into the bubble… and the bubble doesn’t break!

If you want a quick run-down of what’s happening here, basically the “skin” of the bubble merges with the soapy surface of the pencil tip, so that no air gets in and makes the bubble pop. If you try it with a dry pencil, you’ll get a pop right away! We had fun seeing how far in we could poke the pencil.

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And then had lots of extra bubble solution to blow out on the back patio!

Expanding Star

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We’re on a roll with toothpick tricks around here! This one has a nice patriotic feel to it, so might be fun to save for a holiday. But it was equally neat on a chilly September morning!

You can use plain toothpicks, but for that stars-and-stripes feel, I colored a few toothpicks with red and blue marker.

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Snap five toothpicks in half, but don’t break them all the way through; you now have five V shapes.

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Arrange the Vs on a paper plate so they are touching. For a little added red and blue fun, we dripped a few drops of food coloring around the plate.

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Use a pipette to drip water directly in the center of the toothpicks – excellent for fine motor skills.

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Travis was amazed as his star began expanding outward.

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“It’s still growing!” he marveled. The star stopped after that, but then there was lots of fun to be had dripping water over our food coloring to make big blobs, and mixing it all together.

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Magic Marker Color Experiment

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This quick illustration of water’s movement might have seemed ho-hum to Travis after a few of the more complicated activities we’ve done recently, but he loved it!

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To set up, I cut a paper towel into strips, each about one inch wide and four inches long. I let Travis tear them apart along my slits, which he enjoyed.

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We made a line with magic marker near the bottom of each strip.

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Dangle these strips into a clear plastic cup filled with water so that the paper towel is touching the water, but not the part you’ve colored in.

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The water will begin seeping up your paper towel (here’s that capillary action in action again!), and Travis loved watching it.

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He wanted to experiment further in so many ways. First, we continued dipping the paper towel further into the cup. This made the marker color continue to bleed upwards, until the ink was so faint you couldn’t tell anymore.

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Then we colored a wider piece of paper towel with multiple markers, and draped this all around a plastic cup. Which color would creep up the fastest? He was thrilled watching the purple and green in the middle, which outperformed the others.

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Plus it was fun to play with leftover soggy paper towels and cups. So this quick experiment was well worth it!

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Surface Tension Experiment

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This is one of those experiments that Travis and I couldn’t get quite right, whoops! But we tried and had fun in the process, which is sometimes all that counts.

The science behind the activity is that water molecules hold with strong bonds, so much so that they’ll fill the holes of a mesh bag even when tipped upside-down.

First, Travis checked out our mesh bag. It sure didn’t look like it would hold water!

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We put it over a mason jar and secured with an elastic. Fill the jar about 3/4 full with water.

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Place an index card on top and flip over. No water leaking yet.

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Now the idea is to remove the index card – slooowly. According to the internet, sometimes it can just fall off, which works even better. Either way, the water should hold!

However, I think because every time we slid the index card out it wiggled the mesh bag, our experiment didn’t work.

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We tried altering several variables. Securing the elastic tighter around the mesh didn’t make things work any better, nor did using a second, smaller-mouthed glass jar.

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But you’ll notice from the giggles hat Travis wasn’t disappointed in the slightest. In fact, I think he liked the experiment better with the mess!

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Did you get your water to hold? Please share in the comments!