Chemistry Made Fun: Building Molecule Models

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Most people wouldn’t try to teach chemistry to their 5-year-old.  Apparently I’m not most people.  As in, I’m not fully sane.  That’s the only explanation I can think of for doing this.

I hated chemistry as a kid.  It made no sense to me.  I did a chemistry co-op class in high school, and it was the lowest grade I got that year because it didn’t make sense.  I couldn’t remember molecular structures.  I didn’t understand why things went together the way they did.  It was worse than algebra!

I didn’t want the Engineer to grow up hating chemistry like me, so I had a game plan.  Molecule building!

I still don’t understand chemistry all that well, and Mr. Genius had to explain ionic vs. covalent bonds to me.  I do know that our kit only contains covalent bonds, so I can avoid that discussion with the Engineer for now.  We’ll do it later.  Maybe I can point him to Brainpop?

I firmly believe that young kids are capable of understanding some complicated stuff.  I think chemistry falls into the category of “complicated stuff,” but the basics are pretty easy.  Everything is made up of small bits, and the smallest bits of something are called molecules.  Past that, you break it down into building blocks called atoms.  And all the way to quarks, but I’m not going there.  I don’t do chemistry, remember?

We’re concurrently doing a casual microscope exploration, so that made it easier to explain that molecules are smaller than things he can see on his microscope.

Once we start doing more basic science experiments (library book, whoo hoo! here we come science!) I’ll use those same molecule models to show him how hydrogen peroxide breaks down into water and oxygen in the Elephant’s Toothpaste experiment.  Looking at it that way makes a lot more sense, and it sets a solid base for understanding science.

The Engineer agrees with me.  It’s a fun kit.  He wants to build a buckyball molecule (which I made the mistake of showing him.)  We don’t have 60 carbon and 90 connectors, so that has to wait until we buy more sets.

I did stumble on some awesome resources while I was in the creation process that I wanted to share with everyone.  The University of Colorado has created a lot of cool and interesting interactive simulations on their website and one of those simulations is a 3-D molecule builder.  It’s a lot of fun to play with, although I did hit a few snags trying to do molecules with multiple elements in it.

Thank goodness for fellow homeschoolers!  They directed me to a wonderful website from Keele University in the UK.  The Make-It-Molecular site has a ton of free printables for molecule instruction cards – 2-D representations of a lot of complex, interesting molecules.  Once your kid is more familiar reading the 2-D format, this is a great resource.  Each instructional card tells a little about what the molecule is used for, and includes everything from vanillin to ibuprofen.  It only took the Engineer a few tries to correctly read the sheets, so it’s not too difficult.  He still has a little trouble with the H2C — CH2  thing (hydrogen never comes first in a bond.)  Probably not the best way to explain it.

Building the models helped the Engineer connect the visual to reality.  He thought it was wonderful that he could build a methane model because we use methane to cook.  The water molecule was fascinating when Mr. Genius explained that there were millions of them in his water bottle.  Before he headed to bed, he requested that I print out the sugar molecule for him to make in the morning.  Because Sucrose (sugar)  > Skatole (the molecule that smells like poop.)  Kids!


Want to see the kit that we are using?  It’s this one: solid, not too difficult for little hands, and easy to take apart: (this link will take you to Amazon)

Interested in the molecule cards I made for the Engineer?  I’ve posted them on Teachers Pay Teachers, go here to see them (this link will take you to my Teachers Pay Teachers store.)


  1. Buckyballs are cool! A home ed blogger friend of mine wrote a post about how they tried to build them a few ways.

    Thanks for the great links. We’ve got one of those cool sets but my kids have mostly used it with their science tutor. Have you got Theodore Gray’s Molecules book? There’s a brilliant companion (or standalone) app which also has cool ways of manipulating molecules.


    • I love the orange/water molecule! Fun 🙂 I need to check into Gray’s book and app – that sounds interesting, thanks! We will conquer the bucky ball at some point, but I have a bad feeling about the costs lol!


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