Don't use plastic in the place of glass. First, glass is neutral and won’t react with the chemicals. Plastic gives off molecules that can alter the reaction of your experiment. Second, the chemical mixture can melt the plastic, making a mess to be cleaned up. Third, glass can be boiled to assure that you are using clean equipment.

Store all of your science glass items away from the kitchen. You don’t want to use a “culture” dish for pudding.

Kitchen Chemicals

The very word “chemicals” can bring fear to the heart of the most stalwart home educator. Actually most chemicals used in high school labs are already in your home.

You don’t need to spend a lot of money or use anything that concerns you. If you look at a lab and are uncomfortable with what is used or the outcome, don't do it.

This list of chemicals, along with their common names, is taken from chemistry textbooks.

Sodium bicarbonate - baking soda
H4Al2Si2O9 - cement
Acetic acid (HC2H3O2) - vinegar
NH4OH - ammonia
H2O2 - hydrogen peroxide
Sodium chloride - salt
Citric acid - lemon juice
Sodium hydroxide - lye (Drano)
Carbon dioxide - soda pop
Magnesium hydroxide - milk of magnesium
Na4 B4 O7 - borax
Boric acid

Any of these chemicals can be purchased at drug stores or grocery stores.

Chemistry at Home

Careful reading of the instructions by you and your students is the starting point of chemistry labs. If expected results are given, you can assess any danger. Remember that it’s not necessary to do every experiment in the textbook.

Models illustrate the unseen. A model of an atom or molecule will teach the basic structure and demonstrate how atoms join together to form molecules. Or, some students prefer to draw the atoms and molecules.

To test how chemicals react, they need to be mixed. Mixtures can be made with items you have at home.

Remember the volcano that we built in elementary school? The lava flow can be the foundation for testing. We know mixing baking soda with vinegar makes the lava flow. Your student can test other concoctions to make a lava flow.

Begin by learning why baking soda and vinegar react the way they do. With this information, your student can make an educated guess, a hypothesis, about other chemicals that may react the same way.

My sons often used the “Let’s see what happens” method. They’d state a hypothesis such as “Cola mixed with baking soda will create a lava flow.” (Although not an educated guess, it was a guess.)

When this hypothesis didn’t work quite right, they then studied the vinegar and baking soda chemical reaction, including the chemical make-up of vinegar and cola. With this knowledge they were able change to “chemicals” that were similar to vinegar and test the reactions.

My boys learned the chemical make-up of various substances, how they react to each other and under what conditions, and some chemical formulas used to design further tests.

Some household chemicals mixtures can be dangerous, so only mix combinations that you know the outcome. For example: bleach and ammonia mixed create a poisonous gas.

Chemistry is an everyday science. With a little adventurous sprit, some common sense, and a few household items, you too can teach chemistry in your kitchen.

Susan K. Stewart is the author of Science in the Kitchen, Fearless Science for All Ages. She presents workshops on teaching science at home including high school lab sciences. Susan and her husband Bob began teaching their three children in 1981 graduating all of them from home school. She can be reached at susan@skstewart.com or visit her web site www.skstewart.com.