The study of chemistry is the study of life itself, thus ignorance in the subject is not an option. By understanding chemistry, children make great strides in understanding the world around them and how things work. Chemistry provides the explanation for every routine thing they might take for granted: like why laundry detergent works better in hot water; how baking soda works; or why some pain relievers work better on a headache. Knowing some chemistry allows us to make educated choices about the products we use. In fact chemistry is like a recipe or magic potion. We are always adding, mixing and blending ingredients to make something new.
Many educators are concerned that student interest in science and science-related careers is waning. Recent research has shown that fewer children are choosing sciences, which is already affecting the take-up of jobs, especially in engineering. Many youngsters have little interest in chemistry because it seems too difficult or they don't understand it. There is a new priority in getting their attention in it.
The emphasis on getting kids interested in chemistry should be on relevance to them, fun in the activities and encouraging their curiosity. With these objectives in mind, there are lots of things children can do with coloured flames, burning ice, exploding objects and all kinds of strange-smelling fumes to increase their awareness and interest in the subject. The following suggestions start from the youngest age and advance to the seniors.
1. At home activities: Young children can be encouraged to use play dough as a handy toy. They can make objects with it while gradually learning about its properties, flexibility and viscosity through constant touching and their own curiosity. They can also be given some fun chemistry books like Totally Gross Chemistry, Attack of the Killer Slime and Virtual Vomit; the kind of books parents would run from but kids would have great fun reading and trying out the experiments.
2. Fun websites: There are some really fun websites which make chemistry a very interesting and exciting subject. They include Chem4Kids that puts the topics in a very simple manner. For example, children can discover the size of an atom by taking a 28cm strip of paper and cutting it continually in half 32 times! There is also the Comic Book Periodic Table that makes all the elements into Super Heroes while explaining their functions simply among the exciting adventures they have; the Polymers website that shows the difference between plastics in a very engaging and simple way and a great favourite, the Delights of Chemistry, that shows various experiments like exploding balloons, making fire from water and the effects of liquid oxygen and liquid nitrogen. The 'glow in the dark rainbow' of different gases is a real delight to see and yet so simple, the kind of experiments kids would want to try and try again while learning from them.
3. Experimenting: Kids learn best by actually doing it for themselves and using experiments to aid their understanding of the subject is the best way. It brings the chemistry concepts and topics to life. There are many fun experiments that all ages of youngsters would love, especially the following:
a. Using liquid nitrogen to make ice cream in less than a minute. It's always fun seeing the awe and wonderment on their faces when it is complete.
b. Secret writing, in which a message is written on a polymer, and when elongated it reveals a secret message. This is usually a big hit with children.
c. Lighting up a balloon full of chemicals to illustrate what might have happened to the zeppelin Hindenburg.
d. Using a fog machine and cardboard contraption to blow smoke rings towards other people.
e. Filling plastic jugs with methane and making them explode.
f. Dropping a match into a flask of methanol and boric acid, leaving behind flickers of green flames. It actually looks like a wizard trick from a Harry Potter movie.
g. For the older kids, using a test kit that contains tablets used by professional water analysts to determine the composition of water. In addition, they learn how to test water using the various water tablets and also seeing the changes in the water.
h. Putting a hammer to red phosphorous and potassium chlorate to demonstrate oxidation reduction. The deafening bang would be loud enough to cause some concern from onlookers!
4. Museums: Visits to a science museum would be extremely interactive and educational because there would be so much children can do to find out the facts for themselves and to let their curiosity run riot.
5. Clubs and Events; Joining a chemistry club where older students can meet with their friends to chat about chemistry, to try out experiments, and have a great social occasion at the same time is usually a winner with youngsters. Such interaction is usually more effective than doing things on their own. They can also attend events like chemistry fairs to play around with the latest innovations or to enter their own special projects.