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Experiments and discussion can help kids master science concept

Experiments and discussion can help kids master science concept

October 21, 2005|by LISA PREJEAN

"Adding heat makes some liquids change to ... blank."

Silence filled our van as my 6-year-old thought about the question her 10-year-old brother had asked.

He was reluctantly quizzing her for a science test. His motivation? A piece of candy. (It wasn't a bribe, honest. It was payment for helping Mom. It's hard to drive and quiz kids at the same time. Although I do put in my two cents' worth from time to time.)

"Is the answer solid, liquid or gas?" I asked.

"Solid?" she answered hesitantly.

I shook my head.

"Think about it. When Mommy's making you a hard-boiled egg, we put the pan of water on a heat source, the stove. The water starts bubbling. What is rising from the pan?"

She smiled confidently and said, "Steam!"

I nodded. "Yes. What is steam - solid, liquid or gas?"



Perhaps she was thinking about the water in the pan or the water droplets that sometimes form when the steam hits the stove hood fan.

I shook my head again.

"Gas?" she quietly guessed.

My 10-year-old's patience was nearly gone by this time.

"Finally. This isn't that hard. Why can't she get this?" he asked.

It was only then that I remembered how difficult this concept was for him to grasp when he was 6.

"Well, dear, you were just as confused about solids, liquids and gas when you were her age," I informed him.

It's easy for a child to become confused the first time he or she encounters the terms for the three forms of matter.

I try to ease the confusion with simple explanations.

For the most part, solids do not change size or shape unless there is a change in temperature or pressure.

Blocks, balls, toy cars and dolls are good examples of solids that children can easily identify.

Liquids don't change size, but they can change shape. They conform to the shape of their containers.

If you pour a glass of milk from a gallon jug into drinking glasses, the total amount of the liquid does not change, but the shape of the liquid changes to the shape of the glasses.

Gases change size and shape. They can get as big as their containers and can take the shape of their containers.

To illustrate this concept, blow up a balloon and let it go. Inside the balloon, the air conforms to the size and shape of the latex. Once outside the balloon, the air conforms to the size and shape of the room.

Children struggling with this concept might benefit from making three booklets from construction paper. Each booklet could be labeled for one type of matter: solid, liquid, gas. Encourage your child to clip photos from newspapers and magazines and place them in the appropriate booklet.

A child also might enjoy doing this experiment from "Science in Seconds for Kids," by Jean Potter.

Place a balloon over the mouth of an empty 2-liter soda bottle. Place the bottle in an empty cake pan. Pour hot tap water into the pan. The balloon will inflate, or expand with air, because the air molecules in the bottle warm up, get more energetic and occupy more space.

Now place the balloon-covered bottle in another cake pan filled with ice water. The balloon will deflate as the molecules move closer together and use less space.

Experiments are fun and educational, but what helps most of all is discussing forms of matter as you're driving along, waiting in doctor's offices or getting ready for practice to begin.

With just a little extra effort and repetition, parents can help bridge that gap between confusion and understanding.

That's a solid fact.

Lisa Tedrick Prejean writes a weekly column for The Herald-Mail. Send e-mail to

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