Hands On Science: Building Molecules with Blueprints

Today, I am welcoming guest poster, Leslie with Ribbons and Robots to show you how to introduce your kids to molecules with this easy hands on activity!

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Explaining the concept of atoms and molecules to kids can be tricky. How do you teach about something so small you can’t see it?  Well, you need to make it bigger and as hands-on as possible. To teach my 2- and 4-year-old about molecules, we made it much, much bigger by using blueprints to build molecules with paper plates and craft sticks.

To do this molecule blueprint activity, you’ll need:

  • Paper plates (enough for all of the atoms in your molecule)
  • Craft sticks (enough for all of the bonds in your molecule)
  • Paper
  • Crayons, markers, or colored pencils
  • Scissors

There are also a few terms that’ll help you explain molecules to your kiddo as you do this activity:

Atom: The atom is the basic unit of all matter (or everything around you).

Bond: Atoms are joined together through chemical bonds to form molecules. One kind of bond, the covalent bond, can form single, double, triple, and even quadruple bonds. (You can tell by how many lines are between the atoms in the diagram). The carbon dioxide and oxygen molecules used in this activity have double bonds.

Molecule: A molecule is a group of 2 or more atoms bonded, or stuck, together. It’s the smallest piece of substance that still has all of the properties of that substance. Molecules are so small that you can only see them through a special microscope. Pretty much everything on Earth, the planets, and even space dust is made up of molecules.

Molecular formula: The molecular formula gives the number of atoms of each element in a molecule.

The molecular formulas we used in this activity were:

Oxygen: O2  (2 oxygen atoms)

Water: H2O  (2 hydrogen atoms and 1 oxygen atom)

Carbon Dioxide: CO2  (1 carbon atom and 2 oxygen atoms)

Hydrogen Peroxide: H2O2  (2 hydrogen atoms and 2 oxygen atoms)

Glucose: C6H12O6 … How many carbon, hydrogen, and oxygen atoms do you think are in a glucose molecule?

Whether or not the kids really got all of the details wasn’t what was important. They have plenty of time to learn about molecules. The idea with this activity was to introduce them to new words and concepts and show them how interesting the world around them is.

To reinforce these molecule facts, we made up the Molecule Song to go with our activity:

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Now that we knew our facts, we were ready for the blueprint activity! I drew up some blueprints of molecules containing oxygen, hydrogen, and carbon atoms. (It took me just a few minutes to look these up.)

I color coded the atoms and made matching atom cards.

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We practiced matching up the letters to the blueprint before building molecules of our own.

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To build our molecules, we grabbed the paper plates and craft sticks and cleared out a space on the floor for building.  Each plate represented an atom, and each craft stick represented a bond. As we built, I explained how to use the blueprint to know how many plates, sticks, and letters we needed.

We laid out the plates and sticks to match the molecule, and my daughter placed the letters for the atoms in the corresponding plate. We checked our work by counting our molecules and comparing it to the molecular formula.

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The oxygen and carbon dioxide molecules offered a fun twist because they had double bonds.

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We made all of the smaller molecules first before trying out the big one: glucose (C6H12O6).

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The kids had so much fun practicing their building skills and learning to use a blueprint.  In fact, my daughter loved molecules so much that she’s begun making up some of her own. Now that’s what it’s all about!

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About Leslie Ralph: Leslie creates fun picture books and STEAM activities for little girls (and boys) with a lot of smarts at Ribbons & Robots. To get you started, she’s whipped up a free How to Build a Robot From A to Z digital picture book and printable Robot Building Kit for you to enjoy on the house at http://www.ribbonsandrobots.com/howtobuildarobotbook/

Do you have an science experiment or activity to share? Do you enjoy doing science with your kids? Do you have an interesting experiment that you’d like to share? Does your daughter want to be an inventor, scientist, or engineer? Email me at tracy@shelovesscience.com if you’d like to guest post too!

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