Saturday, October 18, 2014
The small Bears' school has a focused-learning theme for the year. The theme is water, with everything that encompasses. Science, social studies, art and even math can be taught around this theme, which has been interesting and challenging for everyone. We're focusing on water in our homeschooling too, building on the lessons they receive in school and creating our own projects as well. There's a lot to learn about water. A few weeks ago, the GB was intrigued with crystal formation after we watched a video about the subject. We decided to make some crystals of our own and boy, was it fun! They were just simple sugar crystals but it was my first time making them and I think I learned as much as the kids did. It was easy, but patience is necessary while you wait for the crystals to form. Ours took about three weeks to reach what we thought was a good size and shape; the bigger the crystals, the more there will be to study and observe.
If you want to give it a try, I'll share what we did. Sugar crystals should be made with a ratio of 1 part water to 3 parts sugar. For simplicity, we measured our sugar and water in regular kitchen 1-cup measures. We heated the water to boiling in a saucepan, stirring in the sugar to dissolve. The syrup created is funky! It's unbelievably thick and gooey. I'm not a candy-maker but I imagine there must a similar stage in that process. We poured our syrup into a large glass jar (ours came from Ragu pasta sauce, I think it's a 26-ounce size? It was an old jar already missing the label). We weren't sure what would work best for a "base" on which the crystals could form, so we used two options: a couple of long, thin wooden skewers, and a few lengths of monofilament (fishing line-type stuff) tied onto a set of child's plastic chopsticks, which could lay across the mouth of the jar. We left the jar in a quiet place on a metal baking tray for about three weeks, checking it periodically and making observations.
When the crystals seemed big enough, the steady-handed Bear chipped them out of the hardened syrup with a fork. We pulled out the sticks and strings and there were lots of sugar crystals! The sticks formed much larger structures but the strings looked prettier, glittery like glass beads. We dug out as much as we could and left it to dry on waxed paper on a plate. We made observations and we ate some too! They dissolved quickly in our mouths but they sort of crackled on the tongue first, like mildly fizzy Pop Rocks. It was exciting! And messy - you should have seen my kitchen counter. But it was for a good cause and ant season is just about over anyway. We all loved this experiment; the crystals worked great and were fun to taste, and we all learned something. Sweet.