Recently I purchased some grass-fed beef gelatin to make homemade jello. A friend told me that the best way to sweeten it is to use pineapple. I thought pineapple was a no-no when making jello, but she was certain that it works great. I gave it a try, and guess what – it didn’t set up. (It was yummy incorporated into a smoothy however!)
This made us ask why it didn’t work, or more precisely, why it did work for my friend. It turned out that the key was to use canned pineapple, instead of the fresh pineapple we had used. Canned pineapple is heated, which inactivates the enzymes that will prevent the jello from setting up. We read more about what precisely is happening when we make jello, and how fresh pineapple inhibits that. (If you are interested you can read more about it at chemistry.about.com)
I share all of this because I’ve been thinking that we really do a lot more experimenting at home than we realize. We think that if we have not pulled out a book of chemistry experiments for young people, then we aren’t doing it right, but I would like to suggest that the opposite is true.
The first step in using the Scientific Method is to formulate a question. How better to start this process than to actually HAVE a question that you want to answer? When we open our book of experiments, we don’t have a question, we are just looking for an activity.
Start paying attention to the questions that arise while you cook with your children, clean, do nature study, play, whatever. Then notice how those questions get resolved. Did anyone do any brainstorming or research that cause them to come up with a theory? (A hypothesis.) Did they do anything to test that theory? (An experiment.) Did that confirm their theory or send them back to the drawing board? (Analysis.)
If you aren’t seeing this happen in your home, maybe it’s just because you’re not watching for it. It’s not necessary that you notice, but it might encourage you. However, if it really isn’t happening around your house, you may need to prompt things somewhere along the way. For instance, if you see that your child is left with a lot of questions, but never looks to find an answer, you might prompt him to research things he is interested in. If you see him looking for answers, but then always taking the “expert’s” word for it, maybe you should challenge him to test out these theories on his own to see if he gets the same results.
One last note. Please don’t take what I’m suggesting to the extreme and zap the fun right out of the adventure by forcing the process. This should be fun, inspiring, life. Not another thing to check off their list.