Canning Beets and Playing Science

All sorts of everyday things become science, if you play with it. And really, that’s how people (including kids) get comfortable with it. It just happens all the time when you feel like it. Most people can happily correct a grammar mistake or a misspelling. But do you play math? Or science? For fun?

The kids’ grandmother often comes over in the middle of the week to cook with us. Sometimes we make marmalade or jam and the extra hands make it easier. We made 25 pounds of chili this week so there’s plenty to freeze. The kids get to practice using knives and measuring things, and we get lots of tasty food.

Last week we pickled beets. You have to boil the beets for a while to
get them soft, and you end up with cups and cups of beet-stained water.

It reminded me of when we boiled red cabbage to get the juice, which is a great indicator for pH. (That is, the juice changes color depending on whether it is mixed with an acid or base.) So, I sent the kids off to play with some pipettes, test tubes, vinegar, and baking soda.



Here is a picture of me showing the kids how it’s done. (Back long, long ago, your mom was a scientist…)

They had fun making their little volcanoes explode, and we got talk talk about what acids and bases are. We discussed the chemical structure and tested all sorts of liquids around the house to determine if they are acids or bases.

Some examples are lemon juice, Formula 409, dish soap, and mustard. I also showed them that turmeric is a good indicator, it just takes about 15 minutes for the color change to show up.

Then, while we were waiting for the beets to process, we used the beet juice and our acids and bases to make pretty designs on paper and paper towels. Suddenly it’s art time!We also tried dying an egg, and talked about the history of dyes.

So, spontaneously, a project about food became science, art, and social studies. It already contained math, since you need to do a lot of measuring and timing of things. Then we went outside and played in the snow.

(Thank you, Anne Kearns, for the great photos! :D)

The next week we went to Mount Vernon (or Mount Vermin as the 5 year
old called it) and the 8 year old bought a souvenir quill and ink well.
We made ink out of coffee grounds, tea, and also tried the beet juice
left over from the week before. It made pretty good ink, though it ended
up fading from the gorgeous magenta to a boring brown color.

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