A Little Science Project: Growing Crystals

December 6, 2012 at 12:26 | Posted in General, Kid Concoctions | 10 Comments
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My kids recently grew salt crystals using colored salt water on a sponge, and the ALEX Toys Kid Concoctions Grow a Crystal Dino set was a great way to expand their understanding of crystals and how they form!

how crystals grow

The set comes with a small pouch of crystal liquid and two trays to hold a cardboard dinosaur and two cardboard trees. My four-year-old and six-year-old worked together to set it up.

Once it was put together, it was time to hypothesize about what would happen when we added the crystal liquid.

They looked at the clear liquid, and decided that nothing would happen.

learn how crystals grow

We added the liquid around 2:12pm, and they immediately pointed out that they were correct – indeed, nothing had happened.

Then they noticed that the cardboard was absorbing the liquid, and that – as a result – the dyes in the cardboard were starting to bleed a bit. Around 2:52pm, we noticed that our first cluster of crystals had appeared, on the tree next to the dinosaur:

learn how crystals grow

By 3:43pm, we had crystals on both trees, and several on the dinosaur as well:

how crystals grow

Here is the yellow and orange tree at 6:36pm, with many more crystals:

watching crystals grow

I’m afraid that’s as far as that tree got – soon afterwards it was knocked over by a child. The fragile crystals fell off, and the cardboard was too wet to stand back up on its own. The remaining dinosaur and tree survived, however – here they are at 8:37pm:

how crystals grow

And, almost exactly 12 hours later, at 8:48am:

growing crystals

This was such a fun experiment for my kids! They enjoyed watching the crystals grow, and were surprised to see that they absorbed the dye from the cardboard. The next morning they noticed that the liquid was completely gone, and that the now-dry crystals were a slightly lighter color than they had been the night before (when they were still damp).

They learned that these crystals grow much faster than our table salt crystals – it took us a couple days to see any salt crystals at all, and even after a week we only had very small salt crystals. These crystals started growing within forty minutes of being started – and, once started, they multiplied quickly.

Eventually, the dinosaur got knocked over, and the crystals fell off. The kids enjoyed exploring the texture of the crystals (kind of like cotton balls and kind of like Styrofoam, they decided), and they learned that the crystals were very fragile – easily crushed, and easily broken apart – much more fragile and much softer than the slower-growing salt crystals.

They also noticed that the dinosaur and tree were a lighter color than they had been when we started the experiment, because some of the dye had gone into the crystals. After playing with the crystals for a while, they gathered them all together, and were able to crush them into a tiny little ball. My six-year-old thought that the crushed crystals looked like tiny pieces of chalk.

Simple experiments like this are the perfect opportunity for kids to practice making hypotheses, testing them out, and learning through observation. The main takeaways my kids got from this experiment were that liquids can turn into solids, and that things aren’t always what they seem (the Crystal liquid looked like water, to them). There was also something enchanting in seeing a spiky dinosaur turn into a big puffball!

Do you have a favorite experiment to recommend for us to try?

Thanks to MaryAnne from Mama Smiles for today’s post. MaryAnne lives near Boston, Massachusetts with her husband Mike and their four children. Before having children she spent most of her time teaching and learning; she has degrees in Music, Education, and Medicine and has taught everything from piano lessons and French to research methodology and ethics courses. She is now a stay-at-home mother, and enjoys the learning, creativity, and play that happens naturally in a young child’s everyday life, which she shares on her blog, Mama Smiles. Follow Mama Smiles on Twitter and Pinterest for creative inspiration!


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  1. Oooh, they look unreal! Like colourful broccoli haha. My daughter would have a blast with this!

    • They do look like broccoli! My kids loved it 🙂

  2. This looks amazing. I know for sure my preschooler would love it.

  3. This is amazing! I know for sure my preschooler would love it. I’ve pinned it.

    • It’s very magical for kids! Thanks for pinning the post!

  4. Beautiful crystals! Children learn so much from science. Lovely post and photos.

    • Thank you, Susan Case! I love the way science projects like this bring out children’s natural sense of wonder about the world.

  5. The colors are so vibrant on the crystals! And I’m intrigued that the texture you described is different from the crystals we’ve grown – ours always end up feeling very “hard and bumpy”. My daughter is currently into rock experiments – which are harder than others, which can be used to draw on concrete, which change colors in liquid, etc.

    • I was surprised at how soft these crystals were.

      I remember enjoying rock experiments as a kid – I’ll have to do some of those with my kids.

      • We just love that MaryAnne captured such brilliant photos and that she cleverly wrote the post as a progression through time! Thanks to everyone for the comments!

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