What Would Happen If…?


What would happen if you mix vinegar (acid) and baking soda (base)?
“Mama, what would happen if all the kangaroos in Australia started jumping at the same time and flipped the world so that Australia was on top?

“Well, I don’t know exactly. Do you think we would fall off?”

“Nooo, silly. There’s gravity.”

“Would we be upside down?

No answer.

“Mama, what would happen if I lassoed the sun and brought it down and melted all the snow?”

“What would the polar bears and seals do?”

“No, here.”

“It’s summer; there’s no snow on the ground.”

“Not now, in the winter.”

“Then I guess you couldn’t go sledding.”

“Mama, what would happen if I got a rope and tied the sun and a rain cloud to a tree? Would I get a rainbow? Sunshine and rain are the two ingredients you need to make a rainbow.”

We have landed thoroughly and completely in the “What would happen if?” developmental stage of childhood. It’s a stage fueled by imagination. It’s a stage exhausting for the parent who is continually bombarded by these out-of-left-field questions. First you have to understand the question, which isn’t always trivial; then you have to come up with an appropriately imaginative response.

Occasionally though, among these wildly imaginative questions, is the poignant observation—“sunshine and rain are the two ingredients you need to make a rainbow.” Suddenly your five-year-old, in her wild attempt to figure out how to generate her own rainbows by capturing the sun and a rain cloud, has made you think. If you want a rainbow, you need both rain and sun. (There’s an entire article in that one sentence.)

You get a frothy, foamy production of CO2 gas bubbles!
Sometimes these “what would happen if” questions excite me, because my daughter is thinking like a scientist. She’s looking at the world around her, observing it and asking questions about it. And, like the best science, she’s doing it with imagination.

“Mama, what would happen if I mixed my pop rocks with my fruit punch?” Seriously, that one is right up there with “what would happen if I added Mentos to Diet Coke?”

Admittedly, sometimes these “what would happen if” questions give me indigestion.

“Mama, why can’t you put tinfoil in the microwave, what would happen if you did?”

“Mama, what would happen if I swallowed a fork?”

“Well I would probably have to take you to the hospital.”

“Even if it was a cooked fork?”

An imaginative mind is a wonderful, scary thing, and parenting is not for the faint of heart. But I think it is my job to encourage these conversations, to talk about the possible consequences of “what would happen if”.

And you just might have to mix the two solutions again (this time adding the baking soda to the vinegar) just to see if you can do it again.
So, we will boil some red cabbage this summer and add a little baking soda to the liquid we get and see what happens. And then we will ask, hmm…what would happen if we added vinegar? And we will talk about pH; then we will add some of the water from the fish aquarium. And we will ask “what would happen if we added…”

She won’t learn a thing about the hydrogen ion concentration in the solution, but she might pick up the terms “acid” and “base”. She might realize that one way you learn things is by asking “what would happen if”.

And wow, what would happen if all the kangaroos in Australia started jumping up and down at the same time?

Credit to the Kitchen Pantry Scientist Kid Science Premium App for the experiment described here.

© 2012 Michele Arduengo. All rights reserved.

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