For a year now, my seven-year-old has been in love with chemistry. He has other interests and will participate in other activities, but on an average day, he probably spends 2-3 hours in chemistry-related activities, just because he loves it.
He tells people he’s going to grow up to be a chemist. I don’t know if this is true, or if this interest will wane like astronomy did a couple years ago, by for right now, this is the world we’re living in. I thought I would share some of our favorite (and not-so-favorite) resources in an approximate order of complexity or academic level, in case anyone else shares a similar interest or wants to explore.
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We started out with this book. It’s wonderful, as are most of the Basher books. The reading level is upper elementary, and the periodic table is divided into groups based on properties, and then all of these groups and elements are given comic figure status, with short, dynamic descriptions of what they do.
Basher also has a Chemistry book which can be helpful in identifying terminology and how things work, but if you’re going to start with one, I would definitely go for Elements in Style.
At about the same level, ASAP Science has a great updated Periodic Table song.
Quick note: not all of ASAP Science’s videos are G-Rated, just as an FYI.
J was enamored by this point by the Periodic Table. We got him this shirt from Amazon. It’s his favorite, and he wears it as often as it is clean. It’s super soft, for those with sensory issues. We love it.
After he had the basics down, we borrowed and then bought Theodore Gray’s Elements trilogy. These are his favorites. His books are falling apart because he’d read them so much. The writing is at a high school level, but the thing that exudes from these books is someone who truly enjoys what he’s writing about. He includes silly puns and writes intelligently, but not patronizingly. And the photography is gorgeous. There’s also an app, which we don’t have, but I hear it’s pretty cool.
Around this time, we borrowed a bunch of other resources from the library. Our favorite of all the middle-high school general info books was The Elements by Dan Green, who incidentally also wrote Basher’s Chemistry book. His writing is good, and he manages to communicate the vibrant nature of chemistry rather than dry facts to memorize.
A neighbor who had seen J drawing the periodic table on our driveway recommended the NOVA documentary “Hunting the Elements” (Season 39, Episode 6). It’s great – very accessible and interesting for kids and adults, and there’s even a segment where Theodore Gray (above) shows off his Periodic Table table and demonstrates some reactions.
Around the time that J started studying Gray’s 2nd book, Molecules, we also picked up The Cartoon Guide to Chemistry, which is intended as a study aid for AP or college level chemistry. He has been through it a few times, and each time he seems to pick up more about how reactions work, balancing chemical equations, and other phenomena.
My family also gave J a book for Christmas that’s not exclusively chemistry but does a great job putting everything into perspective. It’s probably geared for grades 5-8 but is accessible for other levels too.
PBS made a fascinating series called The Mystery of Matter, tracing the development of the periodic table. It’s currently available for free on Amazon Prime (April 2018). We skipped about 20 minutes of Episode 3 because atomic bombs and WWII are still too mature for my crew, but we loved how actors dressed as scientists and spoke and demonstrated the equipment used to make their discoveries as it traced the journey from alchemy to the present day.
I was looking for something more practical regarding how molecules form, etc., and that’s when we discovered the Valence card game. We played it for 60 days straight. No joke. It does a great job introducing oxidation numbers and modeling simple reactions. Then we discovered Valence Plus, which has even more elements and combinations, and that is now our game of choice.
Our most recent fascination is powered by Happy Atoms, a molecular building set combined with an iPad app that lets you photograph and “discover” and learn about hundreds and even thousands of common molecules, using the most common elements. I’ve been very impressed with this app and building set. It’s unique in how it models ionic and covalent bonds, and because of its magnets, it’s easy to see whether all of the electron bonds have been satisfied.
These have been our favorites thus far. I will update this post as we discover more great resources.
Some other interesting things we’ve found have been
BrainPop videos – geared to upper elementary, short explanations (subscription service)
Usborne’s “What’s Chemistry All About?” – J asked for this for his good night story tonight. It’s written at a middle school level and has nice, straightforward introductions to terminology and concepts.
Usborne also came out with a Periodic Table Lift the Flap book. We don’t have it, but it seems to be a good intro-level resource.
Kahn Academy has good video descriptions/lectures for various topics, so we have occasionally gone there if there’s a concept he wants to understand that I can’t help him with.
Other good resource lists:
What about you? Do you have any favorite resources?