Beginning Chemistry

It’s time to get more hands-on in our science.  Last term we followed REAL Science Odyssey’s “Life”  curriculum;  C and J loved making jelly cells and blood, acting out red blood cells moving around a giant’s respiratory system, and learning about human digestion and bones. But since the Life curriculum had moved onto worms and molluscs their interest was beginning to wane, besides which it’s entirely the wrong season to be hunting snails or waiting for butterflies to emerge from chrysalises.   The upshot is, we’ve put our half-finished animal kingdom lapbooks aside for now and dived into chemistry!


I spent a weekend thumbing through some chemistry books on our shelves – Robert Winston’s It’s Elementary! Putting The Crackle into Chemistry  and Irresponsible Experiments  – and the REAL Science Odyssey Chemistry curriculum I’d bought in the last Pandia Press sale.  “It’s Elementary” is wonderful but doesn’t offer much in the way of hands-on science, and “Wholly Irresponsible Experiments” is full of fun activities, but from experience I know I need to be guided by some sort of curriculum otherwise all that fun hands-on stuff tends to fall by the wayside.

REAL Science Odyssey Chemistry (1)

The RSO chemistry curriculum is very rigorous in its application of the scientific method and contains lots of practical activities.   The worksheets are mainly geared to older children, so we’re going to focus on the experiments, backed up with plenty of discussion.  We’ll still follow the scientific method –hypothesis, observations, conclusions – but my overriding intention is to get the children excited about science!


C and J are big Harry Potter fans so I knew this “potions” lesson would go down well. We started out with three separate bowls containing:

  • confectionary (icing) sugar
  • baking powder
  • baby powder

First we used our physical senses to examine the powders.

Then we tested how each powder reacted when we added small amounts of various liquids:

  • Water
  • Vegetable oil
  • Vinegar
  • Blue food colouring

Mostly the liquids were added one at a a time to the powder, but sometimes we added more than one thing, like:

  • Food colouring and water
  • Oil and vinegar
  • Oil, vinegar and food colouring

How Did It Go?

The children loved it.  J was especially delighted to have chosen to administer the test on baking powder, which fizzed very gratifyingly when vinegar was added to it!

What Would I Do Differently Next Time?

Although they started out very enthusiastic, by the end of the experiment the children were a bit weary – there were a lot of tests, and they had to wait while I washed up the glasses in between each one. If I were doing this again I would probably spread it over more than one day or leave out some of the tests.  Science works best in bite-size chunks in our house at the moment.

What Next?

The RSO Chemistry curriculum moves on next to a discussion of atoms and then introduces the elements. Before we go onto that, I’d love to find a good living book on the history of chemistry.  It took a long time for alcehmists-turned-scientists to discover that the world is made of elements, and the story of how they did is fascinating, as I found out when I recently watched the BBC documentary Chemistry – A Volatile History. Wouldn’t it be fun to learn about atoms and the elements as the final piece of a detective story that puzzled great minds for centuries!

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