Holiday season is the busy time of the year. It is hard to find time to study or do science activities with kids. But learning doesn’t have to happen in isolation. We can definitely incorporate science learning into fun holiday activities, like this salt crystal ornament, a fun science activity with salt and water, for kids to learn about solubility and saturation. I am super excited because I found a way to grow the crystal very fast, in just couple hours! In general, I like this project because they are easy to do, and you don’t need much special materials (who doesn’t have salt at home). Kids can be creative and the products out of these activities can be used as real ornaments on the family Christmas tree, or even be saved for years. I can easily see it become a family holiday tradition. Of course, adding science learning is a plus. Kids will learn chemistry and solubility while observing the crystals form.
Preparation for the Salt Crystal Ornament Making
Some people like to use Borax for salt crystal, but we didn’t use it. All we used are salt and water, pipe cleaners and contructrion paper. I also find a way to grow the crystal fast, so you don’t have to wait over night to see the actual salt crystal.
We created 3 different ornaments, each one has a little different process. All 3 need the same preparation: saturated salt water.
To make the salt water, we used a plate that is deep enough to hold water covering the pipe cleaners, so about a quarter inches deep.
Pour water into the plate so the pipe cleaner can be completely immersed in the water. Add salt into the water with occasional stirs to help the salt evenly distribute in the water and to dissolve quickly. Keep adding salt till you see salt starts to cumulate in water.
Make sure to check on the salt water solution couple hours after you adding salt. Sometimes it simply takes time for all the salt to dissolve. Once you find the all salt disappeared in water, you should add more.
White Salt Crystal Flower Ornament with Pipe Cleaner
Step 1. Make a flower with pipe cleaner.
The simplest way to make it is to cut 4 to 6 same-length pipe cleaners, and then connect them at the middle point of each. Make sure to have a hanging hook if you plan to hang it on the tree. Get a multi-color pipe cleaner package, as kids will like to try different colors. The white crystals make any color look good.
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Step 2. Build salt crystal on the flower.
I have seen many different ways to do this with pipe cleaners. Many hang the ornament in salt water in a big bottle. I found that takes a lot time. I decided to do it with a plate. Instead of hanging the ornament in a bottle filled with salt water, I put the ornament made of pipe cleaner in the plate filled with saturated salt water. You can also sprinkle some salt on the ornament as seeds for faster crystal build.
The benefit of doing it in plate is the much shortened waiting time. The salt crystal builds up faster while the water vaporizes sooner.
It feels like the salt stays on the ornament better if you take it out of water while it is half way dry and still damp.
We used red pipe cleaner. It looks pretty with white salt on it.
Colored Salt Crystal Christmas Tree Ornament with Pipe Cleaner
We made another ornament in the shape of a Christmas tree. The first 2 steps are the same as the flower ornament, and we colored the crystals at the end.
Step 1. Make the ornament with pipe cleaner.
Bend one long pipe cleaner into the shape of a Christmas tree.
Step 2. Immerse the ornament into the salt water in the plate.
Step 3. When enough salt crystal is built on the Christmas tree, take it out of the salt water. Drip favorite food colors on to the white salt crystals. Observe the color spread on the tree.
We used whatever the colors we had at hand, and it looked good. To have a more sparkling effect, make sure to leave some salt crystal as white or clear color.
Salt Crystal Christmas Tree on Construction Paper
The reason I choose construction paper is for the thickness, since it will stay in water for a while. Paper that is too thin may not stand the long sitting in the water. Additionally the surface of the construction paper is not very smooth. This makes it easier for the salt crystal to stay.
Step 1. Pick a piece of construction paper and cute it into the shape of a Christmas tree.
Step 2. If you plan to hang the tree on a big tree, attach a thread at the top of the ornament tree.
Step 3. Put the cut tree in the saturated salt water in the plate. Lay it flat, and sprinkle some salt on it as seeds for more salt to build on them.
Step 4. When the water is semi-dry and the ornament tree is still damp, take it out, and lay it on paper towel to let dry.
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Step 5. This is optional. Drip some bright colors onto the tree. Personally, I liked the effect of white crystal on green paper the best.
The Science behind the Salt Crystal
The salt is made of Sodium (Na) and Chlorine (Cl) atoms. While in water, the Na and Cl are separated by water molecules (H2O). As the water evaporates, the Na and Cl atoms begin to bond together sharing a pair of electrons called ionic bond. While more salt molecures form, they bond together, forming crystals. The crystal shape for salt is cube. This shape is definitely visible on all the ornaments you make.
To make it fun, observe the salt crystals under a magnifying glass. Are they shaped like cubes?
Salt crystal ornaments are fun to make. It is an easy STEAM project combining science and art. Some people use Borax for easy crystal formation. However, when doing it right, regular table salt will just be fine. If you do like I did, using plates for salt water, and put a little salt as crystal starting seeds, you will get the crystals pretty quickly.