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How to Help Your Child Understand the States of Matter at Home

As a family life and child development expert, JP has devoted years in nurturing students and strengthening family relations.

Do you take the time to help your child with his/her school lessons?

Do you take the time to help your child with his/her school lessons?

Science, probably next to math, is one of the hated subjects at school. As such, teaching your child the states of matter is not at all a pleasant experience. So, like many parents out there, we leave this up to their teachers. But as parents, we are the first and most important teachers our children will ever have. Thus, suck it up, and let’s start learning how we can teach our kids the states of matter even if we barely know about it.

Matter is everywhere.

Matter is everywhere.

A Quick Review of the States of Matter

The states of matter

Let’s have a quick review of the states of matter. First of all, matter is anything that occupies space and has mass. This means, matter can be huge like stars or can be ridiculously small like subatomic particles. Secondly, in its simplest terms, the state of matter is one of the possible forms in which matter may exist. The commonly known of these include solid, liquid and gas. The classic example for this is water. As you may already know, water may exist as a solid in the form of ice. Also, it can also exist as a liquid, the water you drink and use for your bath. Likewise, it can take the form of a gas as water vapor.

So why does matter exist in different states?

To answer this, we have to take a closer look at the molecules of matter. Solids have molecules that are closely packed together giving them their structure. This is why we say that solids have a definite size and shape. On the other hand, liquids have molecules with greater distances between them. Their molecules move around making them flow and take up the space of their containers. As such, molecules of liquids have definite volume but indefinite shape. Lastly, gas molecules are farther apart and they move freely. This is why gases do not have a definite shape and volume. Temperature plays a vital part in the movement of molecules and thus affect the state of matter. Moreover, the more heat is present in matter, the faster the particles move. Furthermore, the amount of heat and energy in matter influences it's state.

Other states of matter

Surprisingly, solid, liquid and gas are not the only states of matter. The predominant state of matter in the universe is plasma. This state is characterized by high energy and a sea of free electrons. Think of it this way, when you heat up matter, you make its molecules move faster. As they move faster, the particles move farther apart. This is why ice melts into liquid and liquid turns to water vapor. Now, think of a gas and subject it to higher temperatures. The gas molecules will soon breakdown and free up its electrons. Eventually, this gas will turn into a highly-charged cloud of particles called plasma. The first matter formed in our universe is plasma and when it cooled down, other states of matter formed. Examples of plasma include stars, lightning and even the Northern Lights.

Of course there are other states of matter such as Super Fluids and Super Solids, Bose-Einstein Condensates and Fermionic Condensates that are created at extremely low temperatures. We are talking about temperatures approaching absolute zero. Suffice to say, this is colder than your refrigerators. There are high-energy states of matter for example the Electron-Degenerate Matter found in white dwarf stars, Neutron-Degenerate Matter found in neutron stars, Strange Quark Matter also found in neutron stars. The truth is we continue to discover different states of matter as we learn more about the physical universe. I’m confident that we’ll learn more in the coming years.

States of Matter in a Nutshell

Making the experience concrete for your child

An important challenge that we, parents face is turning abstract concept into concrete and tangible experiences for our children. This is not an easy hurdle but we can create learning moments in everyday activities. Here are some suggestions on making states of matter a more enjoyable topic for your child. And the fundamental principle here is child-appropriateness in our learning experiences.

Preschool students

  • Introduce the words solid, liquid and gas as they interact with their toys and objects around them
  • Allow them to experience ice melting on their hands
  • Show them boiling water produces steam
  • Let them blow a balloon
  • Show them butter melts when you put it on freshly-made hotcakes

Questions you may ask your child about matter:

l How does the material feel?

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  • Which items or objects are heavy?
  • Which objects flow?
  • What are the shapes of the objects?

Preschoolers will have a better idea of the states of matter when we provide them with activities where they can interact with objects. At this stage, their experiences are more of exploration and discovery. As such, provide as many learning experiences as possible.

Grade school students

  • Make ice pops with your kids and explain to them that liquid turns to solid when placed in the freezer
  • Let the child compare the rate of evaporation of water - example: one under the sun and another under the shade
  • Have the child group the items in the house based on it’s state
  • Let the child build different structures using different materials - sand, soil, stones in order to discover the different properties of matter.
  • Allow the child to help out when cooking

Questions you may ask your child about matter:

  • What conditions allow matter to melt faster?
  • How are solids, liquids and gas different in terms of their shape and size?
  • What objects freeze/melt easier?
  • At what temperature does water boil/freeze?

At this stage, your child will benefit from feeding their curiosity through experiments. This experience allows the child to assimilate and accommodate knowledge. Furthermore, use and practice of scientific skills will prove beneficial to your child. Ask your child to compare and contrast, measure, observe, group and sort, and other skills needed in scientific inquiry.

Our children can learn the states of matter better when we provide them with meaningful experiences. We don’t need to set up expensive nor fancy scientific laboratories in our houses. Instead, we can provide them understanding through daily activities and objects they routinely encounter at home.

Science becomes more interesting when your child is having fun.

Science becomes more interesting when your child is having fun.

Quiz on the states of matter

For each question, choose the best answer. The answer key is below.

  1. 1. Which one describes matter?
    • Matter is anything with a high temperature.
    • Matter is anything that is heavy and can be contained.
    • Matter is anything that we can see.
    • Matter is anything that occupies space and has mass.
  2. 2. What is referred to as the state of matter?
    • It is the size of matter at a given time.
    • It is the unique composition of the air around us.
    • It is one of the possible forms in which matter may exist.
    • It is the relative temperature of subatomic particles.
  3. 3. Which of the following influences the state of matter?
    • Size
    • Heat
    • Distance
    • Solid
  4. 4. What state of matter has a definite shape and definite volume?
    • Solid
    • Liquid
    • Gas
    • Plasma
  5. 5. What state of matter has an indefinite shape and indefinite volume?
    • Solid
    • Liquid
    • Gas
    • Plasma
  6. 6. What is the most common state of matter in the universe?
    • Solid
    • Liquid
    • Gas
    • Plasma
  7. 7. What state of matter has a definite volume and indefinite shape?
    • Solid
    • Liquid
    • Gas
    • Plasma
  8. 8. Which one is an example of plasma?
    • Stars
    • Ice
    • Air
    • Rain
  9. 9. What is the first type of matter that was formed in the universe?
    • Air
    • Stars
    • Plasma
    • Water
  10. 10. Which of these states of matter are formed in extremely low temperatures?
    • Solid
    • Plasma
    • Strange Quark Matter
    • Bose-Einstein Condensate

Answer Key

  1. Matter is anything that occupies space and has mass.
  2. It is one of the possible forms in which matter may exist.
  3. Heat
  4. Solid
  5. Gas
  6. Plasma
  7. Liquid
  8. Stars
  9. Plasma
  10. Bose-Einstein Condensate

This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.

© 2021 JP Carlos

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