This exploration is for all ages, as the colored smilies show. Growing crystals is fun for your whole family!
The growing crystals earth science experiment comes from unit Unit 3-14 about gems and minerals. Layers of Learning has hands-on experiments in every unit of this family friendly curriculum. Learn more about Layers of Learning.
New rock is formed from cooling magma. When the magma cools underground it cools more slowly and forms crystals. The crystals formed depend on the mineral content of the magma and the cooling rate. If the magma cools very slowly, sometimes large crystals can form into gems.
In this experiment we’ll make crystals from borax. The borax crystals will have a definite shape and regularity, just like crystals formed under the surface of the earth.
Step 1: Library Research
Before you begin experimenting, read a book or two about gems and crystals. Here are some suggestions, but if you can’t find these, look for books at your library about gems. The colored smilies above each book tell you what age level they’re recommended for.
Rocks and Minerals
by National Geographic Kids
Rocks, Minerals, & Gems
by Miranda Smith
The Rock & Gem Book
Step 2: Growing Crystals Experiment
You will need wide mouth jars (about 36 oz or 1 L), food coloring, pipe cleaners, string, pencils (or a dowel or short stick), borax, and water.
Start by forming your pipe cleaners in whatever shapes you’d like. You can make snowflakes, swirls, letters of the alphabet – whatever you can form from a pipe cleaner.
Next, tie a string on to your pipe cleaner formation. Tie the other end of your string on to the center of a pencil. You want to make the length of the string adequate so the pipe cleaners will hang down into your jar, but not touch the bottom.
Fill a wide-mouth jar with boiling water. Add Borax to the jar, 1 Tbsp. at a time. Stir it in to dissolve it after each tablespoon. You should add enough for a ratio of 3 Tbsp. of Borax for every cup of boiling water you put in the jar. Add some food coloring if you want your crystals to be a specific color, and stir that in to the mixture as well.
Now suspend your pipe cleaner creation into the full jar, allowing it to hang freely from the pencil. Let it sit overnight, undisturbed.
By the next morning you should have some beautiful crystals!
Step 3: Show What You Know
Look at the crystals you made through a magnifying glass. Draw what you see.
Look for the faces and edges of the individual crystals. Can you tell how many sides each crystal has? Are all of the crystals the same?
Write a description of how your crystals formed. How is this similar and different to the way crystals form from magma under the earth?
Put your drawing and your description in a binder behind a divider labeled “science”.
Additional Layers are extra activities you can do or tangents you can take off on. You will find them in the sidebars of each Layers of Learning unit. They are optional, so just choose what interests you.
Idaho is called the gem state because its mountains are full of rare and valuable gems, including star garnets.
Our family was able to go search for star garnets at Emerald Creek campground in Idaho. Is there a place near you where you can go see gems or minerals in person?
Most crystals take thousands of years to grow. The giant crystals in Cave of the Crystals, Mexico, have been growing for about 500,000 years.
Learn more about this cave and how the crystals formed in it.
Lots of stories include crystals because they are so beautiful and they seem like the could be magical.
Draw a picture of a “magical” crystal. Decide what powers it has. Who would want to posses it? What would they do to get it?
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