My 3 year old is crazy about planets. He talks about the solar system continuously. We read lots of books about planets, and watch videos of science shows. In doing this, he gets exposed to lots of other assorted science concepts.
Yesterday he was talking about solids, liquids, and gas. Today, as I was unloading the dishwasher, he was stacking plastic cups, saying “this one’s solid, this is a liquid, this is a gas.” I tried to tell him they were all solids.
Then, I had a sudden flare of inspiration. I grabbed a pot, and told his I was going to put some solid water in the pot. I asked him what solid water was, and he knew that was ice and that we kept that in the freezer.
So, I scooped up a bunch of ice, dumped it in the pot, and asked if we should turn the solid water into liquid water. He liked that idea, so I put it on the stove and sat him next to it (with safety warnings, of course!). We watched the ice melt, and talked about how solid water was changing to liquid water. Then it boiled and we talked about liquid water changing to gas water and spreading out through the room (yes, the new word I used with my three year old today was ‘dissipate.’)
We threw in more ice so we had solid, liquid, and gas all in the pot at the same time. .
We repeated this several times, having a great time together. We talked about it, I was sure he understood it. I was feeling like Genius Mama!
After our experiment, he went right back to playing with his plastic cups, saying “this one’s solid, this is a liquid, this is a gas.”
With my first child, I would have been so discouraged. I would have gone from feeling like Genius Mama to feeling like Foolish Mama. I would have thought that because he went back to the same game that he had learned nothing from our little experiment.
Did I manage to completely teach my child all there is to know about states of matter in one ten minute game so that he’ll understand and apply it for the rest of his life? Nope.
But, did we have fun? Yep. Did he see that we can explore ideas together that he has heard about in books? Yep. Did he see, and understand in the moment, that ice turns to water and then to steam when you heat it? Yep. Did he learn, at least in the moment, that you can call ice solid water, what we normally just call water is liquid water, and steam is water as a gas? Yep. With the plastic cups, did he show that he understands things can be sorted into three categories of matter? Yep. Some day he’ll get that plastic cups are solids. He’s got plenty more years to figure that out.
The best part? We had some fun, engaged quality time together. And there was no mess to clean up when we were done!