Monday, March 24, 2008

A birthday party for a budding scientist

I subscribe to a rather humorous number of magazines, one of which, Cookie, is extremely humorous in its own right. Written for a small, urban demographic of well-to-do moms, it's full of tips on taking your kids to Sweden, dressing them in Kenneth Cole, and sporting Tod's or Chanel rain boots yourself when school drop-off time looks like it will be a bit overcast.

Of course, moms who take the kids to Sweden will not be content to merely send the kids to Chuck E. Cheese's for a birthday party. They want something a little more fun, authentic, and possibly educational. Which leads me to the way-cool "Good Chemistry" birthday party idea featured in the April issue, which even families who aren't into Chanel rain boots will enjoy.

We start with the outfits. Cookie recommends handing out safety glasses ($6 from and lab coats ($24 with embroidered names from Kids can sip juice from flasks ($3.50 from They can also eat Jell-O made in Petri dishes ($5.50 for 20 from As Cookie explains, "Jell-O is a scientific wonder in itself...gelatin powder is made of long molecule chains. When you add hot water, those chains break. But as the mixture cools, the molecules rebond around pockets of water, resulting in that wiggly consistency."

No lab party is complete without goo and other crazy substances, so Cookie recommends setting up three "experiments." The first involves making snow from polymers that expand in liquid (purchase Insta-Snow Powder from You can also make slime -- a non-Newtonian fluid which can behave like both a liquid and a solid -- from the Atomic Shaker Slime kit (also from To make test-tube lava lamps, order jumbo test tubes from the same Steve Spangler Science, and fill halfway with water, and halfway with vegetable oil (perhaps squeezed from wash bottles; $2.25 each at Drop in Alka-Seltzer and food coloring and watch what happens.

A little over a year ago on this blog, we discussed the decline of home chemistry sets. Many scientists got their start by blowing things up in their garages, something that -- in this age of liability and worries about crystal meth labs -- is becoming increasingly rare. I'm not saying that you need strong oxidizers to make a good party, and certainly making goo isn't particularly intense as science lessons go. But kids don't get to do much hands-on these days in school, and there's always this idea that science is this strange, slightly dangerous foreign thing. A birthday party like this makes it cool. So kudos to Cookie for sharing the idea.


InTheFastLane said...

That sounds really fun. I have to say, however, that I had a chemistry set and my cousin and I heated and mixed every combination of chemicals in the set and never got the desired explosion. I think they tool all the explosion out of those sets. We had to add our own chemicals to get the reaction we wanted :)

Kevin said...

For my son's birthday party in second grade, I hired an "outdoor science fun" teacher, and had him do a science party for my son's class (actually for 2 classes, since the bilingual program he was in had 2 classes that mixed in different ways throughout the day). Naturally, I cleared this with the teachers and the principal ahead of time, and they were all fine with it. The price was less than a party at home would have been and more kids had a good time with science.

arcady said...

As a working scientist, I'd like to point out that it's a safety rule never to drink/eat from labware. Even if the glassware is brand new, the conflation of the edible and the (possibly dangerous) 'chemical' just isn't a good idea.

Archana said...

By no means I describe myself as " cookie" mom, ( Not that I cannot afford to be one BUT, there is more to life as a mom than Chanel Rain boots) but We did a chemistry b'thday party for our dd last month. A group of local college grads (having CMU here in town helps) have opened up a club called Labratz that did the show. One cannot forget the wide eyes, enthusiastically raised hands & hands dipped in experiments.

But I find that we need to look no further than our homes, especially Kitchens, to teach our kids chemistry / Physics, & anyform of life around us to learn of biology. If we look just below skin, everything in environment around us has an experiment in process. I tend to engage my both kids in thinking as many whys as they can in such a way that it's now very natural for my kids (who are 8 & 4) to continue to, either ask questions or generate theories as we live our day to day lives. Afterall, Newton did notice that apples fall DOWN for a good reason.

Only if we continue to give them an environment, where there sense of wonder does not die, we will be able to have budding scientist.