“Who—me? Teach science? You must be joking! I barely passed science when I was in school. I’m certainly not qualified to teach it now!” The prospect of teaching science brings to mind names such as Einstein, Newton, and Bernoulli, along with the complex equations and scientific theories they espouse. Thus, it is easy for a homeschool parent with no science degree to view science as a daunting challenge and to shy away from teaching science. It’s easy to become even more discouraged by the price tags found on numerous materials required for science experiments, especially if you have a limited budget.

The truth is that science is all around us, and it takes no special training, knowledge, or extra expense to introduce your elementary-aged children to basic scientific principles right in your very own kitchen with common household ingredients. As The Magic Schoolbus’s Miss Frizzle likes to say, the key to making science come alive for kids is to “take chances, make mistakes, get messy.” Conducting science in your kitchen lab is an excellent vehicle for tying in cross-curricular skills such as measurement, nutrition, responsibility, and following directions, as well as kitchen safety and the scientific process. Select recipe experiments that end in an edible treat to motivate your kids’ scientific curiosity, and reward the junior mad scientists for a project well done.

Homemade Root Beer

Combining root beer and science will be an instant hit for all root beer lovers.1 While many recipes call for ingredients that the average family does not have handy, a simple recipe of brewer’s yeast, root beer extract, sugar, and warm water is enough to teach kids about fermentation and carbonation.

Mix ¼ teaspoon yeast in a cup of warm water. Dissolve 1 pound of sugar in ½ gallon of water heated to 180 degrees F. Stir in 4 to 6 teaspoons of root beer extract and let cool.

Mix in the yeast solution and carefully pour the mixture into a plastic gallon-sized jug. Pour in enough warm water to fill the jug, leaving 2 inches empty at the top, and twist the lids on securely. Keep the bottles at room temperature for three to four days, and then refrigerate for an additional four to seven days.

For young children, a quick version of this experiment substitutes dry ice for yeast. Simply place the dry ice in the root beer liquid in an airtight container, such as a portable cooler. It should be carbonated and ready to drink in one to four hours. Add ice cream for a root beer float celebration, or hold a taste test to compare commercial brands to your homemade version.

Ziplock Ice Cream 

For a completely scientific treat, make your own ice cream to go with your homemade root beer.2 In addition to being a tasty project, making ice cream is a good way to learn about freezing, melting, and changing states of matter. In a quart-size ziplock bag, mix ½ cup milk, ½ cup heavy cream, ¼ cup sugar, and ¼ teaspoon vanilla. Seal the bag securely and place it within a 1-gallon size ziplock bag filled with 2 cups of ice and ¾ cup rock salt.

Seal the gallon bag and let the child squeeze and shake the bag vigorously until the mixture thickens like ice cream. Spoon the ice cream into your float or a bowl, and enjoy your tasty treat. Optionally you may substitute other flavors for vanilla, such as adding mashed berries, chocolate syrup, peppermint extract, or food coloring for a colorful snack.

Pizza Science  

Kids love pizza, so tell them they get to make pizza for science and they’ll want to repeat the experiment over and over again.3 Most people are familiar with baking a pizza in the oven, but can you cook one on the stovetop or over a barbecue or campfire? This experiment will answer that question and take care of lunch or dinner for the day.