Face it, crystals are cool. Plus they work nicely into the whole holiday/winter/snowflake-y theme. You could use a few new decorations and out smarting your kids for once might lift your spirits a bit seeing that you've been pretty down about spending all that cash on the holidays.
Why not amaze the kids, flaunt your knowledge of six-sided hexagonal shapes and sparkle up the joint a bit for the holidays..whichever they may be...with a few Borax crystal decorations?This old time-y project is fun for the whole family.
Please note that this project uses Borax, a common household cleaner/chemical and can be harmful if ingested particularly by the little ones. Use constant supervision and do not allow children to touch, eat or inhale Borax. This is based on a pretty common grade school science experiment about the properties of crystals. Here is more information about the chemical properties of Borax:
Step 1: Gather Necessary Materials
To make these awesome crystal decorations you need a few items most, if not all, of which you have around your house.
1 large-ish empty recycled glass jar with a preferably wide mouth (I like to use glass peanut butter jars because they tend to have large openings and we just seem to have an over abundant supply of them given our PB & J addiction)
Large pipe cleaners or as they are sometimes fancifully called "chenille stems" (I prefer single colored stems because they add a nice pop of pigment to the crystals)
Borax (20 Mule Team Borax Laundry Booster). If you're having a hard time finding Borax I recommend checking your grandparent's laundry room or go to the detergent aisle of your local AARP grocery shopping hot-spot and you're sure to locate a box.
1 Tablespoon measuring spoon
1 spoon for stirring
Boiling hot water
String (we like embroidery floss or twine but even unused dental floss works)
Step 2: The Perfect Color
Chose a chenille stem from your color options. Try to have in mind what shape you'd like to make for before choosing your color. Very important. Or you can do what my two year old daughter does and just play it safe and choose your favorite color...pink of course.
Step 3: The Shape of Things
Twist and bend your stem into whatever shape you'd like to make. Go crazy. The sky's the limit.
Step 4: Cookie Cutter Option
Or if you're like me and shape challenged you can always try wrapping your pipe cleaner around the outer perimeter of your favorite cookie cutter to get your desired shape. Just be sure to evenly twist the ends of the shape closed. Then slide the pipe cleaner off the cookie cutter. Whoa-la! A perfect Star of David.
Step 5: String It Up
Tie a piece of string to the top of your decoration. This will double as a way to suspend the pipe cleaner in the jar and act as the perfect hanging tool to display your crystallized art.
Step 6: Heat Things Up a Bit
Heat water in a kettle until it's boiling hot.
Step 7: Tip Me Over and Pour Me Out
Once you're water is bubbling away carefully pour it into your clean, recycled jar almost to the top.
Step 8: Perfect Measure
Using a tablespoon measuring spoon start measuring in tablespoons of Borax. Pour in four tablespoons at first. Then, mix the Borax and the water together. If the Borax completely dissolves you'll need to continue adding tablespoons until the water is cloudy and there might even be a few pieces of Borax that won't completely mix in. Our large jar took 10 tablespoons and our medium one took eight. You'll just have to eyeball it figure out exactly how much you'll need.
Since I've posted this I've gone back and have retried the experiment with less Borax and found you can use a bit less with similar results. This time around I used only 5 tablespoons for the medium jar and 7 tablespoons for the large.
You might want to place something under the jar when pouring and stirring the Borax to cut down on the mess.
Step 9: Mix Master
Mix and check the Borax/water solution after every two tablespoons.
I allowed my 2 1/2 year old 2 stirs with a long spoon so she could feel involved. Then we washed our hands.
Step 10: Reached Saturation
When your solution remains cloudy and no more Borax will dissolve you've finally reached saturation. Yeah!
Step 11: Hanging by a Thread
With pencil held horizontally in your hand wrap your decoration around the middle of the pencil.
Step 12: Fully Submerged
Dip your decoration into the jar of hot liquid Borax until it is fully submerged in the mixture. Balance the pencil across the mouth of the jar so that the decoration is centered in the middle of the jar. Make sure that no part of the decoration is touching the sides of the glass jar. This is especially important because crystals will grow on the walls as well as the pipe cleaner and if the pipe cleaner is too close to the jar walls it will get stuck thus potentially ruining your hard work when you pull it out of the jar. We can't have that!
Now's the time you wait. Sit back, relax, go to bed and in the morning check on your creation. You might even want to wait up a bit. Perhaps, read a book to the kids. We like Kenneth Libbrecht's cool micro-photography book "Snowflakes". Then check on the jars to see if anything has happened yet. So exciting.
Step 13: Magic Crystals
Through the magic of science you'll wake the next day to a dazzling display of sparkly crystal goodness. Simply lift the decoration out of the jar and give a huge thumbs up at a job well-done.
Step 14: Dry Time
Place decorations on newspaper to dry.
At this point your child might say "Wow! How did that ugly pipe cleaner grow all those sparkly-shimmery crystals?"
Here's your opportunity to prove that you are in fact the smartest parent on the planet, perhaps even the world's smartest person by saying:
"You know junior, the Borax we used is a type of crystal meaning it's a symmetrical solid shape with flat sides that form a repeating pattern. A snowflake forms when water molecules cool and move close together creating a six-sided crystal. Similar to snowflakes, Borax also forms large and small crystals in cooling water. Hot water can hold more Borax crystals than cold water because when water molecules are heated they move farther apart. This creates space for more Borax crystals to dissolve until saturation is reached. Then, the magic happens. The water molecules begin to cool and move closer together making less room for the dissolved Borax thus causing crystals to stack when water evaporates releasing the extra Borax. How fast your water cools determines the size of your crystals. If your water cools quickly you'll grow small crystals and if the water cools slowly larger crystals will form. Now, dear, judging from your crystals how do you think your water cooled?"
Step 15: Shiny Happy
Once your Borax crystal decorations have dried it's time to put them on display for all the world, or at least your visitors to see. It's nice to have a light close by shining on your crystals so their true beauty can shimmer through.
A creative imagination yields a pretty cool crystal decoration. In case you couldn't tell from the photo, which I'm sure you have no idea what my children decided to make with their pipe cleaners, my 9 year old son made a "Joker face from the Batman series" while my 2 year old daughter was aiming for something more abstract in the fashion of Kandinsky...I think they succeeded.