What happens when we mix two things together? That’s a fundamental question that every preschooler encounters with astounding frequency. What happens when I put water in the sandbox? What happens when I mix the foods on my plate? What happens when I drop non-bathtub things in the bathtub? Mixing things together–chemistry–is a common occurrence in everyday life, and giving children a vocabulary for talking about these fun experiments better equips them for understanding what happens in the world around them. Thus Chemistry Science for preschoolers. Steal this program!
Welcome everyone with a name game. I decided to open up this program with a name game that has been successful and shared by at least two great librarians: Carissa in Wisconsin and Kendra in Washington. To set up for this name game, put a piece of masking tap on individual building blocks. As children enter the program, give each a block with his or her name on it. Then, one by one, say hello to a child and invite him or her to add the block to a central building area. As more children’s names are called, the bigger and more interesting the block creation becomes.
To introduce the concept of chemistry, we shared a story. Most children experience kitchen chemistry on a daily basis as they see a grownup make the food they will eat. That’s why I chose a baking story to introduce the concept of chemistry. Karma Wilson and Will Hillenbrand’s Whopper Cake is a terrific choice due to its large illustrations, lyrical rhyming text, and humorous premise. We talked about all the ingredients we saw going into the cake as we read the story.
Next, we retold the story of baking a cake. I used Google images to create a baking felt board set with real images of all the ingredients one would need to make a chocolate cake. We talked about how all the different ingredients get mixed together and how they change. We talked about physical changes using the idea of mixing flour and sugar together–they stay the same despite being mixed. We also talked about chemical changes with baking the cake as an example. To help solidify the concepts of physical and chemical changes, the kids and I talked about different foods that they like to eat, how they are made, and what happens when they get mixed with other things.
We did hands-on activities to reinforce chemistry and physical and chemical changes. I shared some brief verbal instructions with the caregivers in the room to explain our three activity stations. I set up multiple stations so that children can engage with our science topic at their own pace. Some children only stay engaged for a few minutes per activity, but others get really into the experiments and spend upwards of 10 minutes replicating each. Our three chemistry activities were:
- Streamers of Color — Based on an activity from Janice VanCleave’s Chemistry for Every Kid, this activity invites children to see what happens as a fine powder is slowly added to a liquid. We used water in clear cups and powdered juice drink to see how mixing the two items changes them.
- Fireworks in a Glass — With a clear water bottle, some cooking oil, and liquid food coloring, children can make their own lovely fireworks in a glass–and, in the process, explore how some materials will mix together while others will not. Kids got really into this activity, and after their fireworks had “fizzled out,” they still had plenty of fun mixing different colors together.
- Chemical “Explosions” — Children seem eternally fascinated and excited by the mixture of baking soda with vinegar, and that reaction can be a perfect introduction to basic chemistry. I set out plates of baking soda and small thimble-size cups of both water and vinegar for the experiment. Children were encouraged to first pour the water on the baking soda to see what happened, then to try the vinegar and compare the two reactions.
Everyone got to take something home to reinforce our STEM topic. In addition to a variety of preschool-appropriate books about chemistry and easy experiments, I set out take-home activity sheets for families to bring home. Each handout contained instructions for two activities to continue exploring chemistry at home: invisible ink and cleaning pennies with a solution. I set extra handouts at the check-out desk after the program so interested families can take one home as they please.
Have you introduced the topic of chemistry in a program for preschoolers? I’d love to hear about it in the comments!
Don’t forget to check out the other Preschool Science programs I’ve shared here on the ALSC Blog: Gravity Science, Water Science, Body Science, Color Science, Weather Science, and Strength and Materials Science.*program photos property of the author