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The Montessori Grandparent Way: Enjoy Some Science Inquiry Time Together

Written By: Shefun Jiwani-Ali

My annual weekend visit with my oldest granddaughter Blakely Jayne is one of the highlights of my year. At almost four she is cheerful, smart and highly inquisitive, and delights in learning about the world around her. Each year my son-in-law makes the long journey from Rochester, New York to Sarasota, Florida where I live. As he plays golf with his grandfather Blakely and I enjoy our special time together. It’s a win-win for everyone.

Whenever Blakely comes to visit I invite her to participate in experiences that will both build on our collective memories and stay with her as she grows. She still talks enthusiastically about our trip to the Jungle Gardens, and the parade we had where we were followed by hundreds of flamingos. She looks forward to our visits. Now that she is a bit older a lot of the fun activities we share can be found right in our own kitchen.

It was easy for me to decide what to do with Blakely this year. The Kitchen Science Experiments I chose for our time together were presented to me at the Montessori Foundation’s 16th Annual International Conference last November, right here in Sarasota. Each year hundreds of Montessori guides, teachers, administrators, heads of schools, board members, parents and grandparents gather to experience a weekend of workshops and listen to inspiring keynotes.

One of our regular presenters is Dr. Ann Epstein, the Early Childhood/Middle Childhood Program Coordinator for the University of Wisconsin at La Crosse. As soon as Ann submitted her proposals for this year’s conference I knew that the science experiments she would be discussing would be the perfect thing for my weekend with Blakely. I chose a few age appropriate ones and gathered the necessary ingredients from my kitchen. Most of the items needed were things I already had at home, making these experiments both fun and relatively inexpensive.

I may not have had a dedicated early childhood environment in my house, but I did have a large, covered lanai which acted as the perfect outdoor alternative. In order to set your child up for success you need to make sure that you provide them with a prepared environment, regardless of what activities you have planned for them.

Once Blakely had arrived we took our ingredients to the table and we worked through Dr. Epstein’s suggested questions. These questions are not only designed to encourage your child to think beyond their own personal space, but also help them to engage in conversation while learning new words and ideas. This multifaceted approach helps your child develop multiple skills at once in a fun and easily accessible way. As an aside, make sure you conclude any activity before your child gets too tired. Ending on a high note leaves a positive lasting impression.

I have included some of the activities we did together in this article so you can enjoy them with your own children. Some of the activities required precise measuring, a skill Blakely is still acquiring, so I pre-measured some of the ingredients before we began. I did, however, let her do all of the mixing, pouring and transferring.

We had a wonderful time conducting our experiments, and we hope that you and your children do as well.

Experiment 1: Baking Soda and Vinegar

Materials

  • 1 Mixing bowl
  • 1 Large metal or plastic spoon
  • 1 Cup measuring cup
  • 1 Tablespoon measuring spoon
  • 1 Box of baking soda
  • 1 Bottle of white vinegar
  • Food colouring (optional)

Process

  1. Measure out 1 tablespoon of baking soda into the mixing bowl
  2. Measure 1 cup of vinegar
  3. Add the vinegar one tablespoon at a time until the reaction occurs
  4. Discuss the reaction with your child, and observe how the bubbles are formed. The bubbles form because gas is released when baking soda and vinegar are mixed together.

Experiment 2: Dish Detergent and Whole Milk

Materials

  • 1 Small dish for mixing
  • Several Q-tips
  • Food colouring
  • ½ Cup of dish detergent
  • ¼ Cup of whole milk

Process

  1. Pour the ¼ cup of whole milk into the small dish.
  2. Add several drops of food colouring to the milk. You may choose to use one colour or several.
  3. Dip one of the Q-tips in the dish detergent.
  4. Gently lower the Q-tip until it is touching the surface of the milk and food colouring mixture.
  5. Discuss how the milk and food colouring mixture reacts to the detergent covered Q-tip, and why the Q-Tip causes the milk mixture to swirl. The detergent is attracted to the fat in the milk.

Experiment 3: Black Pepper and Bar Soap

Materials

  • 1 Flat pan or plate with raised edges, such as a glass pie plate
  • 1 Bar of soap (a “hard” soap like Dial works better than a “soft” soap like Ivory)
  • Black pepper in a shaker
  • 2 Cups of water

Process

  1. Pour the 2 cups of water into the pan or plate.
  2. Sprinkle pepper across the entire surface of the water.
  3. Gently touch one corner of the bar of soap to the surface of the water.
  4. Discuss how the pepper quickly disperses to the edge of the glass container. This happens because the surface tension of the water has been broken by the soap.
  5. Gently touch the soap to the water for a second time and observe what happens. Discuss why the pepper won’t move again. This happens because the surface tension of the water has already been broken, so it is unable to “hold” the pepper in place.

Experiment 4: Oobleck (Cornstarch and Water)

Materials

  • 1 Large mixing bowl (glass works best)
  • 1 ½ Cups of cornstarch
  • 1 Pitcher of water
  • Newspaper or tablecloth to cover the table, or a tray that is large enough to hold the bowl
  • 1 Wooden mixing spoon

Process

  1. Pour the cornstarch into the mixing bowl
  2. Slowly add the water, stirring as you pour. Continue to add water until you achieve a honey-like consistency.
  3. Gather a small amount of the oobleck mixture in the palm of your hand and form it into a soft ball.
  4. Clench your fist. As you do this the oobleck mixture will turn into a liquid and drip through your fingers.
  5. Release your grip and watch the oobleck mixture return to its solid state.
  6. Discuss why the oobleck transitioned from a solid into a liquid, and back to a solid again. This occurs because of surface tension, which holds the particles in place. The pressure disturbs the surface tension, changing the solid oobleck mixture into a liquid.

Additional Kindergarten-Age Science Activities You Can Do At Home

  • Simple circuits. These can be created using a large batter, some wire, several alligator clips and a small light bulb with a holder.
  • Sink and float experiments
  • Magnetic vs non magnetic experiments
  • Colour mixing with shaving cream
  • Sprouting seeds. Lima beans work particularly well for this experiment because they are large and will sprout in individual sandwich bags. To prepare the beans wrap each one in a ½ sheet of damp paper towel and place it in the baggie, making sure not to close the top all the way so the bean can get enough oxygen.
  • How plants drink. Stand a freshly cut stalk of celery up in a pitcher of coloured water (red works well) and leave it for two to three days. Watch as the water creeps up the celery veins.
  • Wind experiments
  • Bubble experiments

Blakely and I ended up expanding on the baking soda and vinegar experiment. We took all the mixed ingredients and scooped them onto a plate. Then we patted them down and felt the mixture with our fingers. We observed that it was wet, but did not seem to leave any liquid on our hands. Next we set the flattened mixture in the sun to dry for several hours. Once the vinegar was evaporated by the sun it hardened. This whole extension gave Blakely more things to think about.

Once we had completed our experiments I gave Blakely a pail of warm water and a small sponge so she could clean the table. The cleaning up portion of our time together kept her almost as engaged as the experiments had and let her practice a valuable skill in the process.

Guiding your grandchildren and teaching them how to maintain their environment from start to finish is an extension of the ideas they are learning in their Montessori classrooms. As grandparents it is important for us to try and support, encourage, and foster the same values while we enjoy our time with them.

Author Biography

Margot Garfield-Anderson is the IMC Membership Director and Conference Coordinator for the Montessori Foundation’s Annual Conferences in Sarasota, Florida and San Jose, California. She has three grandchildren, and while Blakely isn’t able to attend a Montessori school she does her best to enrich Blakely’s life with as many Montessori moments as she can. By creating traditions and memorable experiences Margot is able to give Blakely a foundation steeped in Montessori principles and practices, something which is very important to her. We hope that you share these experiments with your children’s grandparents so they too can create special and memorable times with your children.

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