This past fall, my library started a new program for preschooler’s called “Preschool Steam Lab.” The program is designed to start teaching young children about science and experimentation. It was a huge hit in the fall, and the winter STEAM Labs were much anticipated. For the winter’s first steam lab we chose to focus on chemical reactions.
We began the program with a brief conversation about what a chemical reaction is, and the difference between chemical reactions and physical changes. We then did a demonstration of the mentos and coke experiment at the front of the room. I had the kids hypothesize what might happen when I put a mint in the bottle of diet coke. We started with one mint, then tried three mints, and ended by putting seven mints into a bottle. Unfortunately I struggled with getting all seven mints into the bottle before it started exploding, so the final attempt wasn’t quite as exciting as I had hoped (if I were doing this again I would attempt to stack them in a test tube, or something similar, and poor them in with that rather than my hand).
Following the demonstration, the kids had the opportunity to try out a variety of experiments involving chemical reactions themselves. We set up different stations, many of them required the parents or caregivers to assist or at least pay attention.
We set up a station to do the exploding bag experiment using vinegar and baking soda. In this experiment the kids poored a half cup of water, and a half cup of vinegar into a zip lock bag. They then poured a quarter cup of baking soda into a kleenex. The parents then needed to provide some assistance, as they had to zip the bag closed as much as they could before dropping in the baking soda filled kleenex, and then zipping the rest of the way quickly. The children then either held the bag over the kiddie pool, or dropped it in, and watch as the reaction of the baking soda and vinegar caused the bag to fill with air and eventually pop open.
At another station we provided each child with a small handful of Pop Rocks candy. They could then sprinkle water into their cup of candy, or put it in their hand with some water and listen to it popping and feel the candies jump. A few brave kids chose to put the candy in their mouths, and feel the reaction in the traditional way.
We also set out plates, with drops of food coloring on them and covered in baking soda. The kids dropped or poured vinegar onto the plates to reveal the hidden colors.
The various rainbow creations, were a lot of fun to create. The kids especially liked swirling the mixture around.
We also had a station with disposable cake pans, baking soda, vinegar, and various instruments for dumping the ingredients. The kids just got to play around with the reaction between baking soda and vinegar, creating their own experiments. (Since these were 3 through 6 year olds, we had to use only non-toxic materials, so we did a lot with baking soda and vinegar.)
Finally, we brought in an air popper to make popcorn. We explained that the popping of popcorn kernels, is in fact a chemical reaction, because once popped it can not go back to being a kernel. This was a surprisingly huge hit for the kids. The gathered around the air popper in crowds to watch the popcorn magically pop out into the bowl. They all got a cup of popcorn to eat as a special bonus.
The kids had a lot of fun trying out all of the stations, and becoming little chemists. Some folks tried each station once, and then left the program earlier, but many others enjoyed trying the experiments multiple times. It was a successful introduction to chemical reactions for our preschool aged patrons.