8 Hands-On Experiments to Teach Kids About Chemical Reactions

Updated on December 1, 2018
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Sadie has been an online writer for over six years. Her articles often focus on how to teach science.

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Chemistry can be defined as the study of matter and how that matter undergoes change. That is a pretty boring definition that leaves out all the fun and excitement that comes with studying chemistry. Chemistry is all around you; it explains baking and why an apple turns brown when cut open. Chemistry is the secret behind some magic tricks and colorful fireworks. So when you teach your students or children about chemistry move away from using textbooks, because this subject is best learned by observation and hands on experimentation.

Experiments About Chemical Reactions

  1. Observing the Formation of a Gas
  2. How a Chemical Reaction Can Produce Heat
  3. The Formation of a Solid
  4. The Occurrence of a Color Change
  5. The Elephant Toothpaste Experiment
  6. Hot Ice
  7. Mentos and Coke Experiment
  8. Separate a Mixture

One note before I move on to the activities. Make sure when you do scientific activities of any kind to go ask questions, go through the scientific method and have them form a hypothesis and discuss if they were correct at the end. It's good practice for more advanced science and it gets the mind working.

1. Observing the Formation of a Gas

The first experiment is a very simple one that shows children how to tell if a chemical reaction has occurred by observing the formation of a gas.

Materials Needed:

  • A bottle
  • vinegar
  • baking soda
  • a balloon
  • a funnel

How It's Done:

  1. Have the kids place a small amount (a couple tablespoons) of baking soda in the balloon using the funnel.
  2. Then have them pour vinegar into the bottle so it is about half full. Very carefully stretch the balloon around the top of the bottle, making sure you keep the balloon down so that the baking soda doesn't fall into the bottle just yet.
  3. Once the kids have formed their guesses have them tip the balloon up to allow the baking soda to drop into the bottle. Make sure they hold the top of the balloon so that it doesn't come off.
  4. Once they have observed the reaction, ask questions. What type of reaction occurred? How do they know? What is inside the balloon?

2. Show How a Chemical Reaction Can Produce Heat

Next we have an experiment that shows how a chemical reaction can produce heat.

Materials Needed:

  • 1 tsp of yeast
  • 1/4 cup of hydrogen peroxide
  • a stirring stick
  • a thermometer
  • a bowl

How It's Done:

  1. Pour the peroxide into the bowl and place the thermometer in the liquid.
  2. Let it sit for a few minutes until the temperature has stabilized.
  3. Have the kids record this starting temperature.
  4. Now have them make their guess as to what will happen and if it will be a chemical or physical change.
  5. Pour in the yeast and stir. The mixture should start to fizz and bubble which is a clue to the fact that a chemical reaction is happening, but have the kids keep their eye on the thermometer. They can also touch the outside of the bowl to physically feel the temperature change.
  6. Have them record the temperature the end. Were they right? What type of change occurred? What made the temperature rise?

3. Show the Formation of a Solid

Next up is the formation of a solid. You can also use baking as an example for this- bread is formed and cannot be separated back into flour and water, but this one is more fun.

Materials Needed:

  • 3/4 cup of warm water
  • 1 cup of glue
  • a large bowl
  • a cup
  • an additional 1/2 cup of warm water
  • 2 tsp borax
  • a spoon

How It's Done:

  1. Adults: Place the 1/2 cup of warm water into a cup and stir in the 2 tsp of borax
  2. Have the kids pour the water and glue into the bowl and stir them together. Ask them for any observations.
  3. Then have them stir while slowly pouring in the borax solution (this is a good 2 person job).
  4. Have them keep stirring until the solid forms completely.
  5. Ask for their observations. Did a chemical change occur? How do they know? This is fun experiment with a fun outcome so don't forget to let them play with the new substance for awhile!

4. Show the Occurrence of a Color Change

The last thing to look for when trying to tell the difference between and chemical and physical reaction is the occurrence of a color change.

Material Needed:

  • 3 test tubes with lids (or any container) filled half full with water
  • food coloring
  • 3 containers: 1 containing bleach, 1 containing vinegar, 1 containing hydrogen peroxide
  • 3 droppers

How It's Done:

  1. Have the kids drop a couple drops of food coloring into each of the tubes containing water.
  2. Tell them you are going to add a different liquid to each of the 3 tubes of colored water and they have to decide if a chemical change happens or not.
  3. Have them take one dropper full of the vinegar and add it to one of the colored tubes.
  4. Cap and shake, or stir, the tube. Allow them to make any observations before repeating this process with the remaining 2 liquids and tubes. The bleach will produce a change in color indicating that a chemical change has occurred.

5. The Elephant Toothpaste Experiment

And finally, here is an activity that can either be done as a demonstration or done by the kids on a smaller scale. It's called elephant toothpaste and it's even better than the exploding baking soda and vinegar. It also shows an example of a reaction that is both exothermic (gives off heat) and produces a gas.

Materials Needed:

  • an empty plastic soda bottle (about 16 oz)
  • 1/2 cup of hydrogen peroxide ( the 3% version you can get at the store)
  • 1 pkg of yeast
  • 1/4 cup of warm water
  • dish soap
  • a cup
  • optional: food coloring

How It's Done:

  1. Adults: Pour the peroxide into the bottles.
  2. Have the kids place a few drops of food coloring into the bottles with the peroxide.
  3. Add a squirt of dish soap and swirl the bottle to mix.
  4. In the cup, mix the water and yeast and stir for a few seconds to combine.
  5. Then have them pour the yeast into the bottle with the peroxide and watch what happens!
  6. Once the reaction has completed, they can feel the foam and observe the heat that was created. What did they observe? What are the clues that a chemical change occurred?

Note: If you want to make this a demonstration, you can use a higher percentage hydrogen peroxide. You can find 6% at beauty supply stores. And sometimes even higher online. The resulting reaction will be much bigger and more impressive, but should be done completely by an adult.

6. Hot Ice

Teach your students how to make hot ice! When vinegar and baking soda mix, they form a chemical called sodium acetate. We refer to this as "hot ice." It’s an easy and safe experiment that uses supplies from around the house.

Materials Needed:

  • 4 cups of white vinegar {acetic acid}
  • 4 tablespoons of baking soda {sodium bicarbonate}
  • a pot
  • a glass measuring cup or mason jar {heat safe glass}
  • a dish
  • a spoon

How It's Done:

  1. After collecting the supplies, measure out 4 cups of vinegar.
  2. Pouring it into a medium pot.
  3. Next, stir the mixture until all the baking soda has dissolved and stopped fizzing.
  4. Boil the solution over medium low heat for a little over an hour (You’ll want to reduce the solution by about 75% or until you have about 3/4-1 cup). If you boil your solution at a higher temperature it may turn yellow-brownish. Don't worry, the experiment will still work.
  5. Next, pour the concentrated sodium acetate into a glass pyrex measuring cup and placed it in the fridge to cool.
  6. Then scrape a little of the dried sodium acetate powder off the inside of the pot to use later.
  7. After about 30-45 minutes, the solution is cool enough to turn into ice. When you first take the solution out it will still be liquid. The act of pouring it onto a surface turns it into ice. So, grab a glass dish and place a small pile of the sodium acetate powder from the pot in the center (This act as a seed for the crystals to start forming on).
  8. A pillar of cloudy ice will form. Ask your children or students to guess why this has happened.

7. Mentos and Coke Experiment

Kids love experiments that cause eruptions! Plus kids love fizzing science experiments. These types of experiments also increase practical life and fine motor skills. The mentos and coke experience is especially cheap, but it is still fun for kids and adults alike!

Materials Needed:

  • 2 liter bottle of Diet Coke (it’s said that the sugar substitute in Diet Coke kick starts the reaction and gives a bigger geyser)
  • 1 package of Mentos (the original mint flavor, the fruit flavored Mentos are covered in a wax which means there aren’t as many nucleation sites on them)
  • QA place where you can get messy (like a picnic table outside or a driveway)

How It's Done:

  1. Place the bottle of Diet Coke squarely on a flat surface.
  2. Open the bottle.
  3. Drop the Mentos candies into the bottle.
  4. Stand back and watch the geyser spray!

This is a great experiment to help motivate your students to get used to writing observations. Who doesn't love eruptions?

8. Separate a Mixture

Different types of matter can be combined to form mixtures. Thanks to properties such as size, shape, and density, mixtures can be separated back into their different kinds of matter. This experiment will demonstrate this simple concept to your students or children.

Materials Needed:

  • Salt
  • Spoon
  • Coffee filters
  • Water
  • Cups
  • Sand
  • Straw

How It's Done:

  1. Stir a spoonful of sand into a half a cup of warm water. What happens to the sand? Record your observations.
  2. In another cup, stir a spoonful of salt into a half a cup of warm water. What happens to the salt? Record your observations.
  3. Stick the straw into the salt water mixture. Take a small sip.What does it taste like?What does this prove about the salt?
  4. Look at the sand mixture and the salt mixture. How are the mixtures different?Record your observations. Do you think the mixtures can be separated?
  5. Place a coffee filter over one of the empty cups. Carefully and slowly pour the sand mixture into the filter. Record your observations. What happens to the water and the sand?
  6. Try the same filtering method with the sand water. What happened? Taste the “filtered” salt water again with a straw. What do you notice about the taste?
  7. Pour a small amount of salt water into another cup. Set it on a windowsill and observe it every day for a few days. Record your observations. After the water is gone, what is left behind?

What Is a Chemical Change?

A chemical change is when 2 substances are mixed together to form something new. This differs from a physical change, which is a substance changing physical forms but still retains its original properties. Sometimes when a mixture is made it can be hard for kids to tell if a chemical change has occurred. Such as when mixing sugar and water, the sugar appears to be no longer present so children assume a chemical change has happened when in reality the mixture can be separated back into its original substances. There are 4 main clues that a chemical change has occurred.

  1. There is a formation of gas which can be seen by a fizzing or bubbling
  2. The reaction will cause heat, light or odor to be emitted
  3. A color change is produced
  4. A solid is formed during the change

These are good questions to have kids ask themselves while doing the experiments to help them to determine if a chemical change has occurred or if it is simply a physical change.

Cool Chemical Reactions

Chemicals
Outcome
Sodium Polyacrylate and Water
The polymer's ions attract water by diffusion. The polymer absorbs the water within seconds resulting in the almost instantaneous transformation into a gel substance.
Diethylzinc and Air
Diethyl Zinc is a very unstable compound. When it comes in contact with the air, it burns to form zinc oxide, CO2, and water.
Cesium and Water
Cesium is one of the most reactive alkali metals. When it comes into contact with water, it reacts to form cesium hydroxide and hydrogen gas.
Calcium Gluconate
When it is heated, it causes a huge expansion in the molecular structure. This results in a gray snake-like foam caused by vaporization of water and dehydration of hydroxyl groups.
Nitrogen Triiodide
After drying the initial components, NI3 forms, which is a very reactive compound. A simple touch of a feather will set off this highly dangerous contact explosive.
Ammonium Dichromate
When ammonium dichromate is ignited, it decomposes exothermically producing sparks, ash, steam, and nitrogen.

What Is a Physical Change?

A physical change is when a change occurs, but no new substances are formed. Physical changes affect the form of a chemical substance. However, it does not affects its chemical composition. Mixtures can be separated into their parts by physical methods, such as spinning in a centrifuge or by heating certain kinds of matter (think ice turning into water).

Simple Physical Changes

Change
What Happens?
Ice melting
This is a change from a solid to a liquid and the substances maintain the properties of water because the molecules never change.
Dissolving sugar in water
The solid sugar never loses its properties, the molecules become separated by water and the sugar can easily be recovered by evaporating the water.
Water boiling
This is a physical change as water molecules vibrate faster, they enter the gas phase and become water vapor.
Rubbing alcohol left uncovered
It turns to a gas but maintains the properties of alcohol.

Questions & Answers

    Comments

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      • profile image

        cool 

        3 weeks ago

        COOL

      • profile image

        yah boy riley 

        6 weeks ago

        this is great work

      • profile image

        Colette Kussel 

        3 months ago

        As a science teacher, I was horrified when I watched the 11 Fascinating Chemistry Experiments video. Students should, at the least, be wearing goggles and have hair tied back when using chemicals or flames. This video should be taken down and the experiments performed with proper safety precautions.

      • profile image

        Lee Roberts 

        7 months ago

        These are cool, but they should have some expirnments that people can use with simpler and less ingredients.

      • profile image

        Amanda King 

        7 months ago

        20 Mule Team Borax with laundry supplies at your local store is all you need for the borax.

      • profile image

        Gama 

        8 months ago

        i'am going to try these experiments with my kids at home this weekend and if they work well I demonstrate them at school. how cool!!!!

      • profile image

        juan 

        8 months ago

        soooooo cool!!! all of them work an are sooo fun !!!

      • profile image

        book worm 

        10 months ago

        great expirements....do you have any in the junior high school level?

      • profile image

        Geek 

        12 months ago

        Sounds really cool! Really want to try it!

      • profile image

        kdog 

        13 months ago

        great experimets

      • profile image

        The Pros 

        13 months ago

        We are trying to pick out some projects and this is helping. Here we come 1st place!

      • profile image

        cookee nookie 

        13 months ago

        more advanced stuff please

      • profile image

        Cool 

        14 months ago

        Where do you get hydrogen peroxide from

      • profile image

        .................... 

        14 months ago

        really hydrogen peroxide?

      • profile image

        Tiger 

        14 months ago

        cool

      • profile image

        Hey itz me 

        14 months ago

        This didnt really help much because most of the experiment have hydrogen pyroxide which we cannot use in school. Not really much help I’d say.

      • profile image

        hello 

        14 months ago

        This is so cool to do at home

      • profile image

        booya 

        15 months ago

        it's pretty cool but I want something more advance

      • profile image

        me 

        15 months ago

        i like the stuff

      • profile image

        Ghjjgghh 

        15 months ago

        Good

      • profile image

        Ashleyyyyyyyyyyyyyyy 

        16 months ago

        Thank You! This helped.

      • profile image

        thomasooooooo 

        18 months ago

        i need more stuff to see!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

      • profile image

        bo 

        18 months ago

        really good

      • profile image

        bo 

        18 months ago

        good

      • profile image

        Jk 

        20 months ago

        I love it!

      • profile image

        storay 

        2 years ago

        I loved all the experiments and i would like to do all of them.

      • profile image

        :V 

        2 years ago

        Thank you for the ideas! I didn't find exactly what I was looking for (in my class, we have to design a lab experiment to test the rate of reaction, and I can't find a chemical reaction I can do), but this is overall an informative post. Have a good day :)

      • profile image

        Anonymous 

        2 years ago

        @Naruto

        it's kind of obvious that you're a child, friend

      • profile image

        Naruto 

        2 years ago

        The thing is you need elements in in like titanium and calcium and beryllium oxygen helium and yes im a kid to .

      • profile image

        Erin 

        2 years ago

        Doesn't explain what is happening. Like why is it changing colour etc.

      • profile image

        Joeleen Jennings 

        2 years ago

        The only problem with this is... where is somebody going to find borax just sitting on the shelf? It's not like it is just at your neighborhood Kroger...

      • profile image

        Michael baerga 

        2 years ago

        I mean it's pretty cool but I want something more advance

      • profile image

        bad 

        2 years ago

        cool

      • profile image

        2 years ago

        nice

      • profile image

        Srinithi 

        2 years ago

        Very good and easy

      • profile image

        2 years ago

        It was nice sharing

      • profile image

        adryan 

        2 years ago

        ow you

      • profile image

        bopiz zip 

        2 years ago

        i will sure do this with my pupils. thanks

      • profile image

        hanz 

        2 years ago

        its defenatly good

      • profile image

        CCoker 

        2 years ago

        It should read what is a chemical reaction. Some of the examples given are chemical changes while others are physical changes.

      • profile image

        NAMRATA GUPTA 

        2 years ago

        can some give me easy chemistry experiments

      • profile image

        Tia 

        2 years ago

        But what is happening in each demonstration and why is it happening?

      • profile image

        Turtle 

        3 years ago

        Exciting !

      • profile image

        Katia torres 

        3 years ago

        Good

      • Shankrish86 profile image

        Shankar Ganesh Radhakrishnan 

        3 years ago from Chennai, India

        Cool stuff, indeed! Liked the elephant toothpaste part :) I'm sure gonna try and impress my 3 year old kid with these amazing experiments.

        Wonderful hub. Keep going!

      • toptengamer profile image

        Brandon Hart 

        4 years ago from The Game

        I remember when I was shown the experiment shown in example #1. I was amazed that the balloon filled up on its own.

      • profile image

        Seth 

        4 years ago

        this is a great hub as an early childhood

      • AngeShearer profile image

        Angie Shearer 

        4 years ago from Whangarei, Northland

        This is a great hub as an Early Childhood Teacher I will be using these activities with my older children..thankyou for making science interesting and fun and translating the scientific processes int layman's terms....I found this to be a very useful and interesting read voted up

      • Vvitta profile image

        Kalaichelvi Panchalingam 

        4 years ago from PETALING JAYA

        As a teacher I can say for sure that kids learn best by doing. They remember better and are able to retain concepts when they experience the concepts taught. Great hub. Thanks.

      • profile image

        austin 

        5 years ago

        i love this site

      • profile image

        biochemi 

        5 years ago

        So funny and interesting. Children studying in school level may really enjoy chemistry when such things are taught to them.

      • Patrice M profile image

        Patrice M 

        6 years ago

        Very nice hub! Detailed, acurate and completely kid -friendly. Thanks!

      • profile image

        hyddie lopez 

        6 years ago

        these experiments are off the hook amazing...

      • profile image

        Cali123 

        6 years ago

        Great, concise, explanations and super experiments. Note: I just noticed that in the section titled "What is a chemical change," right before the list of four clues, it should read: "There are four main clues that a CHEMICAL change has occurred."

      • sadie423 profile imageAUTHOR

        sadie423 

        6 years ago from North Carolina

        I hope you give them a try to that your kids enjoy them! I know mine did

      • culinary traveler profile image

        culinary traveler 

        6 years ago

        You've got me excited about trying these experiments with my kids! Thanks for sharing!

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