Tag: chemistry activity (Page 2 of 2)

Weekend Science Fun: Growing Crystals

Growing crystals can be fun because crystals grow and change in amazing ways and they can be incredibly beautiful. At times growing crystals can be frustrating because it may demand unusual and potentially hazardous materials, because it can requires patience when the crystals take a long period of time to grow, and because there is no guarantee of success. In fact, I was inspired to look into growing crystals because someone else had difficulty growing sugar crystals and wanted to know why. Do give it a try, however, because often you can learn more about science from the projects that didn’t work out as you planned than from those that turn out picture perfect. And once you are successful, crystals are awesome!

What are crystals? A crystal is a solid material that has its atoms or molecules arranged in a regular, repeating pattern. This causes the crystal to be symmetrical, and leads to many fascinating geometric shapes. For example, some form cube shapes, like table salt. Others form hexagonal shapes, like six-sided snowflakes.

If you get a chance, look at table salt or a snowflake under a hand lens or microscope. To catch a snowflake, put your hand in a dark (black works best) sock or dark, plain-colored mitten and allow snowflakes to fall on it.

Here are some photographs of naturally occurring crystals. This is rock salt, sometimes used for making homemade ice cream.

rock salt

This is a geode. A geode comes from gas pockets that formed in magma when it cooled. The crystals can grow slowly within the protected pocket, reaching their full potential shape.


Let’s try a few crystal-growing experiments. They will almost all require an adult’s help.

1.    Growing Salt Crystals -fairly easy

  • Drinking glass or small, clear glass jar
  • Hot water (requires adult help)
  • Table salt and Tablespoon size measuring spoon
  • Nail
  • Pencil
  • String

Fill the glass or jar about ¾ way full. Start adding salt to the water one tablespoon at a time. Stir after each addition until the salt dissolves. Keep adding salt until a bit remains undissolved. This is a saturated solution.

Now, tie one end of the string around the nail and drop the nail into the solution suspended by the string. Lay the pencil across the top of the glass or jar and tie the other end of the string around it. The nail is a weight to keep the string straight in the water, supported by the pencil.
Now it is time to wait. Over the next few days the solution should dry and leave salt crystals on the string.

2. Grow Ice Crystals – a Snowy Day Project

  • A drinking glass or clear jar
  • Enough snow or frost from the freezer compartment of the fridge to fill the glass half way
  • Table salt and Tablespoon size measuring spoon
  • Small test tube
  • Water

Fill the glass half way with snow or powdered frost. Press down to compress. Add one Tablespoon of table salt. Now fill the bottom of the test tube with one inch of water. Place the test tube into the snow mixture. The snow and salt should start to melt, and at the same time the water in the test tube should start to freeze into ice crystals. Add more salt to the snow and swirl a bit to mix if things aren’t progressing.

3.    Sugar -Rocky Candy Crystals – A bit more detailed

The person who had trouble with the sugar crystals tried using the same method as the salt crystals above. She added sugar to hot water until it was saturated and then let it dry on a string. Making a sugar syrup by boiling the sugar in the water, and seeding the string with some dry sugar crystals works better. See the instructions for making rock candy at  About. Com.

4. Almost everyone has tried or seen the crystal gardens that use laundry bluing and ammonia. Both these ingredients need to been handled with caution.


  • 2 Tablespoons table salt
  • 2 Tablespoons laundry bluing (available in the laundry section, read the warnings on the label first)
  • 2 Tablespoons household ammonia (read the warnings on the label first)
  • 2 Tablespoons water
  • disposable aluminum dish
  • Food coloring (optional)

Check the bluing bottle, it may have a recipe for a crystal garden on the side which you could use, as well. Otherwise, simply mix the ingredients in a disposable aluminum container. In the video below a cardboard toilet tissue was placed upright in the dish. Note:  you will see that strips have been cut in the top of the roll. Those were actually supposed to go into the liquid to help wick up the solution. Obviously it worked quite well anyway.

You can also pour the liquid over pieces of coal or even bits of clean, dry sponge.

Growing Salt Crystal Garden Video

You can grow crystals from kits as well. This example is aluminum potassium sulfate crystals grown on a granite base.


If you grow a cool crystal, be sure to take a picture, load it on a blog or website and send me the link. I look forward to seeing them.

For more information, ideas and links visit the crystal projects for kids page at About.com.

You can also buy kits (check customer reviews, images are affiliate links to Amazon)

Smithsonian Crystal Growing Kit

Amethyst and Diamond Crystal Growing Kit

Crystal Growing Tree


Making a Science Boredom Bin

Who hasn’t heard the whine of “I’m bored” from their children, particularly during the quiet summer months? Usually it is enough to say, “Go try…” but sometimes they may need a bit of help to get started on a new project. This often happens in the late afternoon when we’re all tired, and the weather is keeping us confined to the house.

To combat the occasional summer blahs, I have been making what we call a “boredom bin” each spring. When I visit dollar stores or secondhand shops, I pick up inexpensive items like puzzles, games, books and art supplies, and throw them in a bin hidden in my closet. Once tedium reaches maximum levels, someone requests a trip to the boredom bin. I suspect just the anticipation of something new helps. Each child gets one item without seeing what else is in the bin. No matter what it is, off they run to play with it. It is a very happy tradition at our house.

This year I’m taking things a step further and making a science-themed boredom bin. Having recently heard a mother explain how she finally had saved up enough money to buy an expensive science kit for her children, I want to emphasize you can do a lot of science with things around the house that don’t cost much at all. Here are some ideas:

Because our family is studying the physical sciences, the first list is a physical science theme.

1. Inexpensive kites (often available in grocery stores for just a dollar or two), or balsa, string, tape and paper to make kites
2. Straws to make into kazoos, atomizers, droppers, bridges, you name it
3. Paper towel tubes, file folders and boxes to make marble towers, houses, airplanes, etc.
4. Plastic bags, bits of yarn or string, and action figures to make parachutes
5. Balloons to make cars, hover craft, drums, etc.
6. Inexpensive magnet and electricity kits, available used or at discount stores that sell returned/discontinued items
7. Inexpensive kitchen scale (garage sales) or materials to make a homemade scale
8. Flashlights, thermometers, magnifying lenses, prisms (we got a very inexpensive crystal pendent that works), aluminum foil to study light and heat
9. Building blocks and wheels (like Legos, Knex or Megablocks) (garage sales)
10. Plastic bins, toy boats, clay, soap, foil etc. to study floating and sinking
11. A good book of science activities to get you started, often available used

A chemistry-themed bin might include:
1. A box or two of cornstarch, to mix with about equal parts water to make cornstarch goo. Kids of all ages love to revisit this messy activity again and again.
2. Bubble mix or try the bubble science experiment in this blog
3. Pennies, nails. Add lemon juice from the kitchen to clean the penny, and copper plate the nail. Lemons can also be used to make invisible ink and with cabbage juice to explore acids and bases (see color experiments in this blog)
4. Oil, food coloring and water to study oil and water separation
5. Vinegar and baking soda to make volcanoes and rockets. For an incredibly simple, yet effective volcano: Have your child make a volcano shaped heap in a sandbox or loose soil, if no sandbox is available. Make a hole in the top, about 1 1/2 inches deep, and pour in some baking soda. Then pour in about 1/2 cup vinegar and stand back for the eruption. The cone can be rebuilt again and again. Add red food coloring to the vinegar to simulate lava.
6. Yeast packet, sugar, balloon and a water bottle. Mix the yeast, sugar and water in the bottom of the water bottle and then cover the opening with the un-inflated balloon. Watch what happens as the yeast begins to grow.
7. Metal objects such as nails, washers, paper clips, etc. Place in jars with either plain water, water plus salt, or plain vinegar and see what happens.
8. A good book of science activities to get you started, often available used

If you want a biology-themed bin, consider adding:

1. Bug catching and viewing toys such as bug vacuums, jars and nets. Encourage your children to catch, observe and release.
2. Seeds to plant in recycled containers
3. Dried beans to soak and sprout
4. Simple kits to make bird houses, feeders. Get more ideas from the bird watching activity in this blog.
5. String, measuring tape, pencils and paper, crayons, camera to study a tree. Keep a nature journal to see how the tree changes from season to season and over the years. Use the string to measure around the trunk and the tape to figure the length. Record what animals visit the tree. Make bark rubbings and press a few leaves. Check the tree flower activity, too.
6. Consider constructing a worm bin to recycle food waste. Red wiggler worms are the special type used in worm bins.
7. Gather materials to start and study a compost heap.
8. Herb seeds and pots to start an herb container garden. Kids like herbs because of their wonderful odors and textures, plus many herbs are hardy to grow, giving children success.
9. Inexpensive tape recorder. Tape insects, birds, mammals and frogs making noises, singing and calling.
10. Find a good book of science activities to get you started, often available used

Please let me know if you want further instructions for any of these projects, or if you have additional items to add to the lists. Good luck and hope you have a happy summer filled with science fun.

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