Egg science is fun at any time, but if you and your kids are planning to boil and dye eggs this week, don't miss out on the great opportunities for fun, colorful, and possibly smelly, family science!
In the years that I have worked at Science Buddies, the tradition of dyeing Easter eggs has taken on new meaning and significance. Instead of simply being a requisite family craft activity, Easter egg preparations have become a conduit for a spring-themed boost of hands-on science with the kids. Really, in my house, the plastic eggs are where it's at. The plastic eggs are the ones that are hidden, found, and might be filled with something of sweet value. The real eggs are the ones decorated and then ushered to the climate-controlled sanctity of the fridge.
Our real eggs are pro forma, but we still dye a dozen or so each Easter just because, so we might as well make use of the opportunity to investigate what's going on with those shells, both inside and out.
Egg Science in Years Past
Our exploration of Easter eggs in the last few years has focused both on the boiling process and on the dyeing process, and we have learned a lot through trial and error and through comparing different approaches to each step. Particularly notable was the realization that hard boiled eggs really are not supposed to be grossly green on the inside! (I've been boiling eggs the way my grandmother taught me all my life!) But our heightened attention to the science at hand also led to interesting questions about pH levels and types of vinegar, and last year, we made our first attempt at using natural dyes.
That process, in and of itself, was beautiful and much more exciting than using the little plastic egg-shaped containers and grocery store dyeing tablets. Our series of mason jars filled with a rainbow of natural dye baths was stunning. If the eggs had turned out as vibrant as the waters themselves, the process would have been a home run for both kids and mom. Unfortunately, the final egg shades didn't live up to the colors at which their water jars hinted, and some colors (and ingredients) were more successful than others. Even so, the hands-on activity was fun, inspired lots of predictions from the kids, and gave us plenty of room to talk about how we might modify the process and our ingredients to enhance our results another year. Plus, in addition to the smell of hard boiled eggs in the air, we added a layer of boiled cabbage!
Bunny Steps with Egg Science
To get you in an egg-ready mood, read through my accounts of our previous explorations. My bunny-hop trail through the land of egg boiling and dyeing is, by and large, a cautionary tale of family science, but our experience might help you hone in on an angle of scientific inquiry to guide your family's egg-based activities this year:
- "Hard-Boiled Science: "I thought that sickly green layer to the yolk was simply... a fact of a hard-boiled egg. It's not!"
- "Putting Your Eggs All in One (Dye) Basket": "Underwhelmed by the sticker and glitter-approach to decorating eggs lining the shelves, I thought of the subtle tones of eggs dyed with natural ingredients and decided we should try it."
There are plenty of "egg"-centric projects at Science Buddies that you can modify for a home-based science activity with your kids. Even without an extra dozen eggs on hand for testing, these science project ideas can fuel family dinner discussions in preparation for Easter:
- "Egg-cellently Cooked Eggs: The Process of Soft-Boiling an Egg": Use the time suggestions in the procedure to create your own informal egg boiling experiment.
- "How Does a Chick Breathe Inside Its Shell?": A chicken egg shell has thousands of pores. What do these pores do? Check out the diagram to learn more about the anatomy of an egg and then investigate by weighing eggs before and after boiling.
- "Eggs and Hen's Diet: Can You Get Bigger Eggs for Peanuts?": What do chickens eat? What makes one chicken feed more nutritious than another? What nutritional value do eggs offer us and what is the relationship between the egg and what the chicken eats? If you tend chickens at home or at your school, experiment with the relationship between the size of the eggs laid and the amount of protein in the chicken feed.
It's the Doing that Counts!
Any of these explorations can be easily adapted as a fun science activity for parents with kids in the house or even for classroom exploration. For families, if you will be dyeing eggs the weekend before Easter, plan ahead and make a bit of extra time to experiment with your family's boiling or dyeing process and to talk about why your results will differ if you change one of your variables. Get a scratch notebook out and assign one of your young scientists the task of recording your experiment. Give another a camera to document the process! How many eggs are you starting with? What color are the eggs? How many eggs are you adding to the pot at once? When are you adding the eggs? How many minutes will you boil the water with the heat on? How long will the eggs sit in the water after you turn it off? Do you use a lid? How will you cool the eggs? And then, what will you do with the second batch? Remember, to compare your results and test a hypothesis, you want to change only one variable at a time!
Any of these questions can be turned into a science activity with your kids. You can come up with a list of questions related to the dyeing process, too! Pick one question that sounds fun, and turn your yearly Easter egg dyeing into a family science activity. You don't have to compare everything. Just pick something that you all agree sounds interesting and makes you "wonder." Talk about it: What do you already know about the dyeing process? What questions do you have?
Designer Dye Baths
If you are looking for something really different and looking to get as far from a "box" craft as you can, the solution may be tucked away in your closet (or found at a local thrift store). The new "Dye Eggs Using Silk Ties for Egg-cellent Colors" chemistry Project Idea explores the science behind a DIY dye approach popular in home and garden and craft magazines. You can create your own "tie"-dyed eggs worthy of Martha Stewart using silk ties. (This is not your rubber-band t-shirt tie dye!)
Following any ready-made directions for using silk ties to dye eggs, you can create an array of eggs sporting novel patterns and designs. But what's the key? What's the science behind the process? We've got a science procedure that lets students ask science questions and put the process to a scientific test! (For a family-friendly spin of the tie-dyed eggs experiment, see the version we posted at Scienctific American.)
Better understanding how the process works and what really makes the colors and patterns transfer best involves some hands-on testing. Be forewarned! To ensure you are only changing one variable in the testing, this science project starts with raw eggs, and only half of them will be boiled during the dyeing process. At the end, half of your eggs may be pretty, but they will still be raw! Be prepared to blow out the insides before you put them on display! And, remember, the silk tie dyes are not ones that are necessarily safe to eat. These are "for display only" eggs!
Successful Egg Science
Boiling and dyeing eggs is a wonderful chance for creative and scientific fun with your kids. How did you spruce up the science in your egg-dyeing this year? We would love to hear! Leave a comment below to tell us what you and your kids or students did.