STEM for Kids: How to Grow Crystals
This science experiment is my favorite kind! It’s low fuss with impressive results. If you do this activity in the afternoon, you’ll have plenty of time to grow crystals by the time you wake up in the morning. I love it when a STEM project is so easy and so much fun! Keep reading to find out what you need (nothing fancy!) and what to do to grow crystals (crystal snowflakes, that is) with your kids.
Also, be sure to read to the bottom of this article to find several YouTube videos about how snow forms, how an igloo can keep you warm, read-alouds of some books about snow (for younger and older kids), and other snow-related articles.
**Safety note- Borax is harmful if swallowed and can cause eye and skin irritation. Supervise your children closely and take precautions to protect your skin and eyes.**
All of the supplies needed to grow crystals can be easily found at Target or Walmart or can be ordered on Amazon. You probably have most of them already.
glass canning jars (wide mouth are easier to use)
liquid food coloring (optional)
1. Start by taking your pipe cleaners and bending them into snowflake shapes. You can get as creative as you want with this step, but be careful to make sure that your shapes are small enough that they fit into the jars without touching the sides.
And you’ll need to leave a little extra room to grow crystals without having them stick to the sides. If they’re too close, you’ll have trouble getting the “snowflakes” out of the jars.
2. Pour 1/3 cup borax into each empty jar. (Be careful to not inhale the powder.)
3. Boil enough water to fill all of your jars. Then carefully pour your hot water into each jar. It doesn’t have to reach the tops of the jars, but it needs to be deep enough to completely cover the pipe cleaner snowflakes once you one to each jar.
4. Stir the mixture with a spoon until all of the borax is dissolved into the water. We did not add any food coloring to this step because I had colorful pipe cleaners, but if you are using white pipe cleaners or want extra color on your crystals, add 20 or so drops of coloring. More is better!
5. Tie a string around your pipe cleaner snowflake (on one end) and the popsicle stick (on the other end).
6. Drop your snowflake into the jar of borax suspension, and rotate the popsicle stick to get the right depth. You want the snowflake to be in the middle of the jar (not touching the bottom or the sides of the jar).
7. Leave the snowflakes to sit overnight! That’s all there is to it! See! It’s not so hard to grow crystals! And it’s lots of fun! Now just have fun anticipating the beautiful crystal snowflakes you’ll find in your jars tomorrow.
In the meantime, read the rest of this article, and then check out the links to other resources (like YouTube videos, read-alouds, and more articles related to snow) at the bottom of this article.
And keep in mind that crystals begin forming quickly, so check in on your progress often throughout the evening. Crystals will form on the bottom of the jar, on the pipe cleaner, and on the string.
In the morning, use the string to pull your snowflakes out of the jars. Place them on paper towels to dry and admire the crystals you grew!
We made ours around Christmas, so we added colorful ribbons and tied them onto our tree. You could also hang them in a window or somewhere else in your home to enjoy for a while.
How It Works:
When you mix the borax and boiling water, you are creating a suspension. When the water is hot, the molecules move apart, and you can dissolve the borax into it. However, you are putting more borax than the water can hold, so as the water cools down and the molecules move closer together, the borax begins to separate from the water. The borax recrystallizes and settles on the pipe cleaner (and on the bottom of the jar). These first borax crystals form seeds. Then more crystals grow on those.
Learn More About the Science of Snowflakes:
Below are some YouTube videos your kids can watch to learn more about the science of snowflakes (the real ones–not borax ones). 😉 Please be sure to preview each video before allowing your kids to watch it.
For Older Kids:
Watch this PBS video about The Science of Snowflakes to learn more. Also, this video is too advanced for most very young children. There is a video for younger children below the ones for older kids. NOTE: This video refers to the Big Bang.
This The Science of Snowflakes video is much shorter and less in-depth, but it includes information about different kinds of snowflakes (plates, columns, etc.).
For Younger Kids:
This Science of Snowflakes video gives a simpler (animated) explanation of the way snowflakes form. It also moves right into other videos about how/why honey bees are important and why they are dying (so sensitive kids might not want to watch the honey bee part of the video), why vultures don’t get food poisoning (very interesting!), what earwax is and what it does, and a final video about why two thin blankets are warmer than one thick blanket.
How Can an Igloo Keep You Warm?
Enjoy These Read-Alouds of Books About Snow!
Or buy your own copy of Snowflake Bentley on Amazon.
The Story of Snow
This book is more complicated and in-depth for older kids. You’ll want to be sure to watch the YouTube video or read the book because it’s full of great information!
Or buy your own copy of The Story of Snow on Amazon.
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Did you try our science experiment that teaches your kids to grow crystals from Borax? If so, how did it go? We would love to hear from you!