I started wondering recently why chemistry is difficult for kids these says. I remembered when I was a kid, my brothers and I each received a chemistry set from our parents, which was filled with bottles of chemicals, a bunson burner, test tubes, a booklet with experiments and the like. In fact, when you ran out of anything, you could go to the corner drug store, and get replacement bottles for not much money.
It had been a long time since I thought of this. I wondered, can they still be found? A quick internet search yielded poor results. Then I found this statement from Edmond Scientific:
Today's Chemistry Sets: Dumbed Down for Safety
By Carlyn Main
Back in the 1960s, chemistry sets were a lot different than they are today. They usually contained glass and metal parts, alcohol burners and volatile chemicals. It was very important to follow the instructions exactly because if you didn’t, the results could be terrifying and dangerous.
Over the years, toy companies have adopted increasingly strict regulations dictating what constitutes a safe toy. If you’ve browsed an online toy store recently, you may have noticed a slew of recalls of seemingly safe toys that were later determined to be choking hazards (anything with small parts must be labeled as a choking hazard) or in some other way dangerous to children. If marble eyes on a stuffed animal are too dangerous to have around children, then you can imagine how the push for toy safety has affected the chemistry set market. Traditional chemistry sets contained not only choking hazards, but chemicals that were poisonous if ingested and could burn or damage the skin. They also contained what we now consider to be unsafe supplies, i.e. anything sharp, easily breakable, flammable, etc.
One option for getting around today’s dumbed-down chemistry sets is to buy all of your supplies and chemicals individually. There are plenty of places online to find glass beakers, test tubes, alcohol burners and fume hoods for conducting old fashioned science experiments at home. This idea has a few major disadvantages as well, like the fact that you’re a la carte supplies won’t come with instructions for any experiments so it’s hard to know exactly what to buy and what to do with it. Also, you might run into some problems having chemicals shipped through the mail. With the recent regulations to prevent meth labs and chemical attacks, allergy medicine is not the only thing being subjected to more strict rules. You might not be able to order a full set of chemicals online at all, or you might not be able to have them shipped to you, or worse yet you might end up on some kind of terrorist watch list. If you choose the “do it yourself” option, it is a good idea to try to find a store near you where you can buy chemicals in person and ask for assistance putting together a good set of supplies for a home lab. Don’t forget safety equipment like goggles, an apron and a pair of gloves.
If you find the idea of designing your own home chemistry lab as daunting as we do, then you’ll want to continue your search for a kit that contains the bulk of the supplies and chemicals you’ll need to set up a respectable home science lab. Our top rated chemistry set, the CHEM C3000, is one of very few sets still on the market that contains actual glass and metal supplies and also a fairly wide selection of chemicals. Admittedly, even this kit has been designed to be safe for kids, but the experiments are exact enough, and the chemicals are volatile enough, that you should plan on supervising your child while they use this kit. The other bonus of this set is that it comes with an experiment manual for conducting 387 different experiments. As far as home chemistry sets go, this is the best one we’ve found and you can buy it online.
So, my question is: Is it any wonder kids in this country find chemistry somewhat "foreign" when they reach high school? Do children in China and other developing countries have the same problems?
CCRS member since: 4/2/2003
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