Classroom in the Kitchen: Science Edition

Cooking in and of itself is a science, so it’s only natural that the kitchen can also sub as a science laboratory. Everything you need is probably in the kitchen and there are countless experiments to try using household items. Simple recipes often feature science, even when we’re not paying attention to it. Emulsification, acidification, fermentation, carbonation, and so many other reactions happen while cooking - let’s take a closer look. 
For all science experiments with children over five-years-old: 
  • Introduce the scientific method
  • Have children create a hypothesis
  • Have children reflect on the outcome
  • Introduce variables the next time you do this same experiment
  • Write down the scientific method to blend science, reading and writing

Experiment with states of matter by making butter

Age group
  • This lesson is a great experiment for all ages. If you decide to enjoy this activity with your 3-6 year old just be prepared to do a good amount of shaking yourself.  
What you’ll need:
  • 1 mason jar with lid
  • 1 fine-mesh strainer
  • 1 cup heavy cream
  • Pinch of salt (optional)
The action:
  • Fill the jar halfway with heavy cream, seal tightly, and shake for 15 minutes, checking periodically. 
  • Once the cream starts to solidify, add a pinch of salt and keep shaking.
  • Strain to separate the solid butter from the liquid. The solid part is the butter and the liquid part is buttermilk! 
  • Enjoy! Use the buttermilk to make pancakes and add the fresh butter on top with maple syrup or honey. Or, have some biscuits ready as this fresh butter will only last about 2-3 days in the refrigerator.
The lesson:
Heavy cream has a lot of fat in it, which is why it’s so yummy.  By shaking the cream, the fat molecules begin to separate from the liquid. The more the cream is shaken the more the fat molecules clump together forming a solid which is the butter.
  • Observing the transformation from liquid to solid
  • Building fine motor coordination and motor planning
  • Enjoying the taste of fresh butter and buttermilk
  • Connections around how food is made
Discussion Questions and Prompts
  • After you pour the cream ask your child, “Is cream a solid, liquid or a gas”?
  • As your child shakes the jar ask them if they notice any physical changes taking place.
  • At the end of the lesson ask your child to identify the two states of matter inside the jar.
  • With older children you can discuss how matter changes.  Ask your child if they think that energy was added or taken away to change the liquid into a solid.  
Follow-up Questions and Prompts
  • As you make pancakes ask your child to identify the different forms of matter on the ingredient list.
  • Have your child put the ingredients into categories.
  • Find other kitchen items to transform (make ice, melt coconut oil, create oobleck, bake)

Experiment with emulsification by making vinaigrette

Age Groups
  • This is another great lesson for all ages.  For 3-5 year olds let them be a part of the process.  Let them measure, pour, and shake.  For children over 6,  you want to encourage and include all of the vocabulary involved with this lesson.  
What you’ll need: 
  • 1 mason jar with lid 
  • 6 tablespoons olive oil or vegetable oil
  • 2 tablespoons vinegar of choice
  • At least 2 of the following emulsifiers: dijon mustard, honey, tomato paste, garlic paste
The action:
  • Tightly seal the jar with a lid and shake vigorously. Or you can whisk the mixture until you have a homogeneous mixture. 
  • To aid in emulsifying and to give flavor, add a tsp of dijon mustard. Season with your favorite herbs and spices.

The lesson:
How can we use chemistry to create an emulsified oil and vinegar dressing recipe? The oil and vinegar form two distinct layers. Why? The water molecules in the vinegar are polar, meaning each one has a positive and a negative charge, like a magnet! Polar molecules are attracted to water molecules—which are also polar—and are called hydrophilic, which means “water loving.” Opposite charges attract, so the positive ends of water molecules stick to the negative ends of other water molecules, forming tight bonds. 
Oil is made of fat molecules, on the other hand, are non-polar. They don’t have positive or negative charges. That means there’s no way for them to stick to the water molecules. They keep to themselves in their own separate layer. Since oils also repel water, they are called hydrophobic, which means “water-fearing.”
In order to bring polar and non-polar molecules together, to make a vinaigrette (the combination of water and oil), you need an emulsifier. These are the hand-holders of the molecule world because they are both hydrophobic and hydrophilic. Emulsification helps blend multiple ingredients into one tasty vinaigrette. Toss it on salads, as a veggie dip, to marinate chicken or tofu, or toss with veggies before grilling or roasting. 
  • Learn about polarity
  • Recognize that polar and non-polar substances don’t mix
  • Understand how an emulsifier works
Questions and Prompts
  • Ask your child why the oil and vinegar aren’t mixing together when you first pour the ingredients in the jar.
  • Try and mix these two items without any emulsifiers to show what will and what will not happen.
  • Play with dish soap and food coloring

Experiment with crystallization by making rock candy

Age Group
  • This lesson is a great activity for ages 6 and up. 
What you’ll need:
  • 4 mason jars
  • At least 4 candy sticks 
  • 4 clothespins
  • A saucepan
  • A candy thermometer
  • 6½ cups white sugar
  • Food coloring (optional)
The action:
  • Boil 2 cups of water in a saucepan. Add 1 cup sugar and boil on medium-high heat to control the bubbles (be careful not to splatter). When the syrup is clear, add another cup of sugar and let boil until dissolved. Continue this until four more times (using 6 cups of sugar total). As you go, it will take longer for the sugar to dissolve, raising the heat if needed. 
  • Keep the syrup simmering until it reaches 230F, using a candy thermometer. Now you have a supersaturated liquid. Remove from heat and let cool to room temperature.
  • Very carefully dip the candy sticks in the syrup a few times and then roll the tips in sugar. Let these dry out so the sugar molecules have something to cling on to. 
  • If using the food coloring, add a few drops to each jar.
  • Fill each jar about ⅔ full with the room temperature syrup.
  • Carefully lower the dried, sugar-coated end of the candy sticks into the syrup, avoiding touching the sides or bottom of the jars. Use a clothespin placed on top of the jar to hold the stick in place.
  • Put the jars in a quiet, undisturbed place. Resist touching the sticks or jars. Leave the jars for a few days for the crystals to form. 
  • When the crystallization is complete, carefully remove the sticks from the jar and let dry. 
The lesson: 
Sugar crystals form when there is a supersaturated solution, which is when there is more sugar than can be dissolved in water. In a saturated solution, the sugar molecules have less room to bounce around, which results in these molecules sticking to each other.
By adding a stick to the solution, it gives the molecules something to cling on to, which helps form crystals faster. The more sugar molecules stick to each other, the bigger the crystals grow and become visible. Look at the crystals under a microscope or magnifying glass to see patterns and sizes of crystals.
  • Understand solutions
  • Define a supersaturated solution
  • Observe crystallization
  • Recognize patterns and shapes
Questions and Prompts
  • When the sugar dissolves asks, “Where did the sugar go”?
  • Ask your child how long they believe it will take for the rock candy to form.
  • Does it matter where you place the jars?  Can some be placed in light while others stay in a cool dark space?  Experiment and explore with the different effects of light.

A special thank you to Julia Mohseni of Countryside Montessori!

If you liked this article, you'll LOVE the rest of our Classroom in the Kitchen Series! Check out other topics we've covered below: 

Classroom in the Kitchen: Math Edition

Classroom in the Kitchen: Literacy Edition

Classroom in the Kitchen: Nutrition Edition

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