Consider yourself forewarned. Do not try this experiment in the winter. Well, at least not in your kitchen. And, actually, never inside your home, regardless of the season. This is strictly an outdoors kind of thing.
Liz Lee Heinecke would offer this advice to would-be scientists of any age. But in the event that the younger set doesn’t pay attention — and they likely won’t — parents should.
It’s the soda geyser experiment that has thrilled kids for years. Empty a paper tube filled with Mentos mints into a liter bottle of Diet Coke and see what happens. (The name alone depicts the carbonated chemical reaction: soda geyser.)
This is one of 52 experiments from Heinecke’s first book, “Kitchen Science Lab for Kids” (Quarry Books, 144 pages, $24.99), recently published with 52 family-friendly experiments that make use of supplies readily found around the house. Heinecke takes kids — and their parents — through the step-by-step process of scientific method, with easy-to-follow instructions and photos.
The Minneapolis scientist and mother of three (ages 8, 12 and 14) shifted her attention to the kitchen lab once her children were born. She writes about their experiments — and offers videos, as well — at her website, www.KitchenPantryScientist.com. You can also find the experiments on her iPhone app called Kidscience.
Experiments in the book include: tie-dye milk, a paper bag volcano, marshmallow catapults, pizza box solar oven, red cabbage litmus paper, cornstarch goo and yeast balloons.
Another experiment we’re anxious to try, though not until spring: standing on a carton of raw eggs, which shows the strength of eggshells. (The arched shape of eggshells makes them much stronger than they look, though the book notes, “The eggs probably won’t break.”) To do this, make sure no eggs in the carton (or two — since you have two feet) are cracked, and turn the eggs so they all point in the same direction (either side up). Set the cartons on a flat surface, such as a driveway and, without shoes or socks, carefully step onto the eggs with your entire foot, making sure you keep your feet flat. What better way to use a dozen or more eggs?
Q: Your message seems to be that there’s an element of science in everything.
A: Cooking is chemistry. I’ve gone to lots of science education conferences, and one thing chemists talk about in particular is what we call chemo-phobia: People say they don’t want chemicals in their food. But in fact your whole kitchen is full of chemicals. This is a way to educate yourself on which chemicals we safely use in everyday life.
Q: Why do you encourage science at home and often in the kitchen?
A: Science in school is great and necessary. But when kids are in the kitchen and cooking, they can experiment and try out ideas — though it’s harder to experiment with baking. At home they have the freedom to make mistakes. If you mix up cookies at home and try something new and they don’t work out perfectly, no one will judge you. You are not getting graded.
Cooking at home and doing science at home with kids is a great way to encourage them to be creative and teach them to think about what else they can try. Kids grow up now in a world of very strict guidelines. Do ABC and then D should turn out this way. But when sitting at a kitchen table playing with baking soda and vinegar or baking cookies, they have that freedom to explore. It’s hugely important.
Q: What mashup of science and cooking do you teach kids?
A: Two of the main ingredients I use in lots of the experiments are baking soda and vinegar. When I go around talking science with kids, I teach them the scientific names: Baking soda is sodium bicarbonate. I will ask if any of them have baked cookies, and many of them have. And I ask if they know what baking soda does, and many of them do. It’s a chemical ingredient that helps make cookies rise.
Then I ask who has vinegar in their kitchen. Most kids know, even the little ones. Does it taste sweet or sour? What do you use it in? Pickles. I will tell them it tastes sour because it’s a mild acid. I will teach them that the scientific name is acetic acid. Adding a little acid to food makes it taste better and more flavorful. This is why we add lemon juice and vinegar to lots of foods.
Q: What do kids learn from these experiments in the kitchen?
A: Cooking and science are very engaging for kids because kids learn in a variety of ways. Lots of kids are visual learners. Lots of kids are tactile learners. Lots of kids like to smell things. As you’re doing science and cooking or baking (which is basically chemistry), you have all these things: color, maybe sound, you’ll have your hands in there if you’re making bread dough or if you’re doing an experiment. That’s why cooking and science are really good ways to engage kids in creative activities because they appeal to all kinds of learners.
It’s also just a life skill thing. Learning to cook and understanding why you add baking soda is a life skill. It makes life more enjoyable if you can cook good food and eat it — and if you know this will taste way better if you add a little bit of vinegar.
Follow Lee Svitak Dean on Twitter: @StribTaste