My eight year old daughter Elizabeth and I have been having a lot of fun recently carrying out all sorts of experiments with a junior chemistry set. It’s already been quite an adventure into science and not only have we learned a lot but we’ve also had some wonderful Daddy and daughter time together, working our way through the introductory lessons set out in the booklet provided with our home laboratory.
The set we bought was chosen after a bit of research as there are a number available. In the end, I purchased the set that had the biggest range of chemicals as many of them required you to buy a lot of additional supplies. Elizabeth was so excited when the set arrived. We even had our own unboxing ceremony and marvelled at all the equipment provided; the test tubes, the spirit burner, the funnel and so on.
We quickly set to work arranging our own laboratory at home. The initial experiments concentrated on dissolving various chemicals in water. We were soon carefully dispensing small samples of the compounds with the measuring spoon and delicately depositing them into test tubes and noting the results. Even these straightforward exercises into chemistry were interesting and much more involving as practical activities compared to learning from a textbook. Stepping it up with the use of the spirit burner added extra excitement and the feeling that you really were “doing science”. Who knew methylated spirits came in such a beautiful colour! (I know it’s a dye, but it’s such a lovely violet.)
As well as the fun and the special time spent in the company of my daughter, an interesting facet to me has been the idea of her learning about a subject in a way that is entirely unconnected to school and the formal education system. There are no deadlines, no tests and no homework – just fun. I am thrilled that she is gaining knowledge and experience during our family time. The idea that as she grows up, these times will form part of her memories and help create our own distinctive life as a family also delights me as a father.
Elizabeth is learning a lot of science of course. For instance, she now knows that sodium chloride is of course salt, that heating solutions speeds up the dissolving process and that sugar crystals are yummy. Almost as useful are the practical skills involving a certain manual dexterity – the pouring, holding and measuring. One of the themes of the booklet with our set is predicting (or at least imagining) what the results of any particular experiment might be beforehand and this is a valuable exercise in itself. Not only is it part of the learning process; this experience I’ve found brings you right into the world of your child as you share the way they think about what is happening.
I must admit I have my own personal reasons for getting involved with chemistry in this way. When I was growing up, I always wanted a set and was jealous of some neighbouring children who were given one. We only dabbled with it in an unstructured way but a chemistry set has always seemed an intriguing novelty to me as a result. My own interest has helped maintain Elizabeth’s interest. She is, like most eight year olds, easily distracted and I certainly have no intention of rigorously requiring her to pay constant attention. If I carry on, at some point shortly afterwards I know she will suddenly become fascinated again when colourful chemicals are bubbling at the bottom of a test tube, or a large seed crystal is being suspended in a jar of solution.
As we progress through the experiments, we’ve talked about further science adventures with sets involving physics and electronics and even a computer kit. Both of us are learning so much and I’ve loved how “doing science” has become a happy time for us as father and daughter.