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Science for Kids: Overnight Crystal Garden

by on December 15, 2013

Growing a Crystal Garden has ranked pretty high up there on my list of fun science experiments for kids for quite some time now. I’ve also been itching to do a “wintery” science project and crystals remind me of all things cold, especially for those of us who don’t ever get snow, the downside of living in LA!

Science for Kids: Growing CrystalsThe only reason we haven’t tried growing crystals sooner is because of the time involved. I’ll be honest, I am not a patient woman and though I proselytize patience to my kids, I’m not a very good example of this virtue! So days of waiting for a crystal garden to grow pretty much sent this idea to the “someday” list. That is until I discovered Epsom salt crystals….leave them overnight and wake up to magic! Oh how much do I love thee Epsom salt!

To be fair, growing crystals using Epsom salt will not yield giant geodes bursting with color; Epsom salt crystals are small, delicate, and slivery. Instead of one or two mega crystals this science experiment for kids will give you hundreds of miniature crystals, they look a little bit like shards of glass and if you’re lucky you may get a few that look like snowflakes…We experimented quite a bit with this project to get good results and despite repeating the process exactly the same we had about a 70% success rate with crystal growth each batch we made. So plan on making 3-4 crystal gardens in case 1 or 2 don’t grow.  Another upside to making a few gardens at once is seeing how differently they grow, some crystal gardens were delicate and lacy, other were more rocky and gem like.  Be sure to make a bunch to delight you and the kids!

This post contains affiliate links to products I love and recommend to my readers, plus it keeps this little blog o’mine afloat! Thank you!

Science for Kids: Overnight Crystal Garden

Materials

  • Epsom Salt Available in drugstores/grocery stores in the first aid section
  • Glass jars or small round glass votives I purchased mine at Michael’s for $1ea
  • Liquid Watercolors or Food Coloring (optional)
  • Water
  • Bowl or glass measuring cup
  • Fork
  • Microwave (optional)

Instructions

Science for Kids: Growing Crystals

  • Step One | Measure You will be using a ratio of 1:1 water to Epsom salt for this project. Add 1 cup of Epsom salt to your jar/votive.  If you are working with larger jars feel free to add more salt but be sure to make a note of how much so you can add the same amount of water.
  • Step Two | Heat the Water Add 1 cup of water to a microwave safe bowl. Heat the water in the microwave for 45 seconds. Alternatively use very hot tap water and skip the microwave.
  • Step Three | Add Color If you are using color, add a dash of food coloring or liquid watercolor to the water. Stir.
  • Step Four | Combine  Pour the water into the jar with the salt. Do this quickly so that the water is warm. Stir the salt and water for 1-2 minutes to dissolve the salt. We stirred for 2 minutes on most of our experiments.  Don’t worry if some of the salt remains undissolved at the bottom of the jar.

Science for Kids: Growing Crystals

  • Step Five | Cool Place the jar in the back of your refrigerator. Alternatively, quick cool the mixture for 10 minutes in the freezer and then move it to the refrigerator. Cooling in the freezer first yielded crystal growth in 90% of our experiments. We had just a slightly lower success rate going straight from mixing to the fridge.
  • Step Six | Let ‘em Grow Leave the mixture overnight in the fridge.  Crystals may start forming in as little as 3 hours but we got the best results when we made the gardens in the evening and left them to sit undisturbed overnight Bonus: My daughter was excited to wake up and see how they had grown!

Crystal Garden Babble Dabble Do- experiments

  • Step Seven | Result Time Carefully pour out the extra liquid. It’s okay to leave a little liquid at the bottom of the jar. If you colored your water it will be hard to see if any crystals have grown until the excess liquid is removed. Clear water is easy to check.
  • Step Eight | Clean Use a wet paper towel to gently wipe away excess salt and color that may be on the upper portion of the jar. This will help you see the lovely crystal garden through the glass. Be careful not to damage any of your crystals!

You’re done! Hand the kids a magnifying glass for additional exploration. My kids really wanted to touch the crystals. That’s okay but let them know they are delicate and break easily.

Science for Kids: Growing Crystals

Tips

Science for kids is not without trial and error! Here are some tips I learned after repeating this experiment over 20 times…

  • There will be duds. I did this experiment many, many times, mixing up some of the variables, but the only constant was that I always had a few instances where the crystal would not grow. I’m not a chemist and I’m sure there is a reason why one mixture grew and another did not despite me thinking I had done the exact same experiment….So hedge your bets and make a few of these at one time.
  • Don’t overheat the water! I know it’s tempting to really heat that water up to make the salt dissolve, but all the experiments we did with really hot water, heated more than 45 seconds in the microwave, failed miserably. Trust me, DON’T DO IT!
  • Stir for at least one to two minutes! This is tough one for littler kids. My daughter was done stirring within a few seconds but you really need to get that water super saturated with salt to make the crystals grow. The less dissolved the salt is the smaller the crystals will be and worst case they may not grow at all.
  • Let them grow even longer in the fridge.  Leave them in the fridge longer than overnight and they should continue to grow. I left a few in the fridge for a over a week and the results got even better!
  • DO NOT let them sit in water at room temperature. Any crystals that have formed will deteriorate in the water at room temp. Once the crystals have formed and you want to preserve them you will need to pour out the water. I had some gorgeous crystals form in the fridge over the course of a week or so and I took them out and left them on the counter in the water. I came back the next morning to find they had flattened out. The one garden I poured the water out of remained stunning.
  • Make a Crystal Suncatcher with the leftover water!  

Science for Kids: Growing Crystals

Looks Like

Carlsbad Caverns. Have you been there? I was lucky enough to go there many, many years ago and it is as impressive and wondrous as you can imagine. I mean who wouldn’t be floored by descending into a bat filled cave to see huge stalactites and stalagmites? If you are ever in south eastern New Mexico you must make a trip there! For more local sightings, those of you in California can visit Mitchell Caverns in the Mojave Desert.

More

Hooked on Epsom Salts? Try these other fun projects: Crystallizing Watercolors from Fun At Home With Kids, Epsom Salt Painting from Blog Me Mom, and Crystal Suncatchers from Babble Dabble Do.

If you love exploring science for kids, you must try Milk Painting. If you like salt fun check out  Salt Pendulums, are they art or science? If you have a budding chemist on hand, be sure to check out Wizard’s Brew, it’s #9 on our list of 20 Science Projects for Preschoolers.

Looking for more science and art fun with kids? Check out this booklist with a few of our faves:  Babble Dabble Do’s Favorite Art & Activity Books for Kids.

So for all you impatient parents out there look no further for a fun crystal science experiment for kids! Making these Epsom salt crystals is really simple and a great idea for a science fair project as well!

Science for Kids: Growing Crystals

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{ 17 comments… read them below or add one }

Holly January 7, 2014 at 4:21 am

What a fun idea! I tried this last night and only one of my three jars grew the crystals. I wonder what the secret is? Like you, I thought I did each jar exactly the same way. I think it must have something to do with the heating of the water. We’re excited to try the suncatchers! Just stumbled across your blog yesterday and really like the concept and ideas! My kids and I look forward to trying more of your projects soon. Thanks!
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Ana Dziengel January 7, 2014 at 5:02 am

Hi Holly, I’m so glad you tried the experiment! I had some batches with more duds than successes and some batches where all of them grew! I wish I knew a chemist who might be able to illuminate me on why….I agree it must have something to do with the heating and cooling of the water. Did you try quick cooling a batch in the freezer for 5-10 minutes? That seemed to help get most of them growing. Also one more tip: Continue to let any that have crystallized grow in the fridge for at least a week. The crystals continue to grow over time! I left a few in the back of my fridge and checked on them one day and some of them had grown into even more impressive crystals. I’m going to write a follow-up on the post suggesting that too because some of the crystals were stunning!

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Jan March 10, 2014 at 1:25 pm

We did not keep ours in the refrigerator or cold. We did not pour off the water. We suspended a string and paper clip and set them on the table. As the water evaporated more crystals grew.

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Ana Dziengel March 25, 2014 at 6:26 am

Ooooh Jan I love this variation! I will have to try it!!! Thanks for the great suggestion!

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Adriane January 7, 2014 at 1:57 pm

Do you have to keep them cold? Could my kids take them to school to show their class or would they turn to a watery substance like jello….? Thanks!

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Ana Dziengel January 8, 2014 at 5:22 am

Hi Adriane,
Once the crystals have formed you can pour out the water and they don’t need to be chilled. Mine have been happily living in our kitchen for several weeks. They will harden even more over time and develop some white edges as they fully dry out. A couple tips: 1) Leave them in the fridge longer than overnight and they should continue to grow. I left a few in the fridge for a over a week and the results got even better! 2) DO NOT take them out and leave them in the water at room temp. They will deteriorate in the water at room temp. Hope that makes sense! 3) When pouring out the water save some for a Crystal Sucatcher.

Take a pic when you have made your garden and post it on our FB page. I’d love to see how they turn out!
Happy Experimenting!
Ana
Ana

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nate January 13, 2014 at 2:14 am

will plastic containers work or does it have to be glass?

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Ana Dziengel January 13, 2014 at 4:41 am

Thanks for stopping by Nate ! I tried plastic containers but did not get good results. You can try it but I do reccommend glass :)

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Christy February 23, 2014 at 8:15 am

About how hot it the water? I know microwaves heat differently. Thanks.

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Ana Dziengel February 27, 2014 at 5:45 am

Hi Christy,
That’s hard to say…..I microwaved mine for 45 seconds but also had luck with piping hot water from the tap. I wish I had a thermometer….I’d try heating water in the microwave for 30-45 seconds for a couple gardens, and the try and some hot tap water with a couple other gardens (inevitably some gardens grow and some don’t).
Hope that helps!
Ana

Reply

Stephanie March 7, 2014 at 12:52 pm

Sooooo cool!! Totally trying ASAP! I love your science ideas!
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Ana Dziengel March 25, 2014 at 6:23 am

I hope you guys enjoy it Stephanie!

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SpeedOrwinska May 20, 2014 at 5:29 am

Why some were ‘duds:
The secret is that you need a ‘nucleation site’ – a place where the crystals can get together and start forming a big structure. In chemistry labs they often put back in one tiny crystal at the end before leaving it to cool as this will act as a great place for the crystals to start growing from. Normally the crystals find some way to do this anyhow, either using a piece of dust or some other impurity in the water, or from using a scratch or bumpy surface on the glass vessel. In the cases where nothing happened, try adding a tiny epsom salt crystal into the solution and see if that gets it going?

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Ana Dziengel May 31, 2014 at 7:25 am

I have been trying to figure it out and this is such a great answer! I will try this and see if this does the trick :) I really appreciate your feedback!

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sebastian canete October 27, 2014 at 4:48 pm

I tried this experiment and it was growing crystals in a couple of days but doesn’t it needs I sponge so it will stick to the crystals. My science teacher said I needed a sponge to have the crystals on it. Can I use the same procedures to make it with a sponge.

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Ana Dziengel October 29, 2014 at 6:47 am

Epsom crystals do not require as pongee to grow on but many other crystals do, like bluing and salt crystals :)

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zo November 11, 2014 at 2:48 pm

very very very very very very very very very very very very very very very very very very very very very cool im doing this for a scince fair project

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