The laughter died down, John continued his tales of being a teenaged science geek. Again, he delighted everyone with stories of blowing up something in the basement and setting it on fire. Twenty years after the fact, it evokes laughter and John is an engineer for NASA developing new sub-space aircraft. To home educators, these stories bring trepidation about teaching laboratory science in general and chemistry in particular at home.

Chemistry textbooks are also fearsome, because they appear to be written in a foreign language. Often these books are written for science majors rather than for general science knowledge. And, our own understanding of the subject is discouraging. We were baffled in high school and we feel even more baffled now.

If the idea of a chemistry lab in your kitchen seems unrealistic, remember each time you cook a meal; you are applying principles of chemistry.

What Exactly is Chemistry?

Chemistry is the scientific study of the substances that make up the universe. Chemists investigate the characteristics of these substances, how they behave under different conditions, and seek to understand chemical changes.  Basic chemistry, then, is about kinds of substances, composition, structure, properties, and interaction of material substances.

How Chemistry is Studied?

The chemist investigates. Meaning the study of chemistry is active and is best studied through experimentation. Most experimentation involves taking substances, making changes, and recording the reaction.

Experimentation, or testing, is used to prove statements that have been made about a substance. The statement iron will rust in water can be made. Then the statement is tested to be proven true or false. Many of the lab projects in high school chemistry books are these kinds of test.

Some statements are not practical to test. They just need to be accepted because of the expense or danger to test. Acceptance of science statements can lead to a discussion about faith in God. Not all things can be proven, but can be accepted.

Basic mathematics is necessary. Your student should know simple algebra and be familiar with the metric system. If you are using common household measurements, teach your student how to make conversions. Most chemistry books include a short chapter on these formulas. Study guides, such as Cliff Notes, will also have the formulas needed.

Chemistry Things Around the House

A medium-sized chemistry set purchased at a toy store will provide many of the items needed to teach a well-rounded chemistry course including chemicals required in your chem lab books. The chemicals are relatively safe when directions are followed. A lab book is generally included with sequential projects and can be the basis for a general chemistry course.

You will need a source of gas fire.  Temperatures can’t be regulated with electric heat sources. Some experiments can be done on a regular gas-cooking stove.

You may be more comfortable with experiments that use a candle or micro-burner. In most case any small candle will work for a micro-burner. Micro-burners are available at school supply companies.

Any laboratory brings to mind test tubes, beakers, culture dishes, and graduated cylinders. That’s because chemicals should be mixed in glass utensils. Household glassware will often fill the bill.

Pyrex® custard dishes are great for growing cultures. Small juice glass can be used for mixing.

Test tubes are in the chemistry set purchased at a toy store.

A cooking thermometer works in most cases where temperature changes are being recorded. A glass Celsius thermometer will help your student begin thinking as a scientist.

Eye droppers are used to transfer small amounts of chemicals. I save glass dropper bottles that come with medication. Although these are getting harder to come by, you can ask a pharmacist.