When kids in the Morningside neighborhood dare to cry, “There’s nothing to doooo!” the solution is simple: Send them to the home of Liz Heinecke. She happily puts youngsters to work growing baking soda stalagmites and making foaming slime.
For the rest of us, there’s Heinecke’s new book—Outdoor Science Lab for Kids: 52 Family-Friendly Experiments for the Yard, Garden, Playground and Park. This is her follow-up to Kitchen Science Lab for Kids, which grew out of Heinecke’s popular blog, The Kitchen Pantry Scientist.
Heinecke is a microbiologist who left the lab to stay home with her kids, now 10, 13, and 15. Always willing to get dirty and experiment, Heinecke got her kids to look up from their screens by making lip balm and foaming lava lamps and edible water balloons. In 2009, she began chronicling her at-home science adventures online, and found a receptive audience around the country. Heinecke is now a TV regular and a popular speaker.
Once, when Heinecke was giving a science talk at a school, a second-grade girl told her, “You don’t look like a scientist.” Heinecke asked, “What do scientists look like?”
“Old men,” the little girl replied. Heinecke, whose first book has been translated into eight languages, is proud to defy that stereotype and the notion that science is best left to the classroom. There’s so much you can do with basic household ingredients like baking soda, vinegar, and cornstarch, she says. And Heinecke already figured out that filling balloons with vinegar and baking soda can have explosive consequences, sparing the rest of us that mess.
For her second book, Heinecke left the kitchen and embraced the outdoors. She went on tadpole hunts and planted a butterfly garden. She built a slingshot for marshmallows and created an earthworm eruption. Naturally, she enlisted the help of her own kids, and those in her south Minneapolis neighborhood—many of whom are featured in the book.
“Kids have gotten away from playing outside,” Heinecke says. “It’s important to reconnect with the environment. It reduces stress, and it’s good for the eyes to get off the screens.” Kiddywampus, the Hopkins toy store that offers science parties designed by Heinecke, will host a launch party for Outdoor Science Lab for Kids on Saturday, July 16, 10 am–1 pm. Heinecke will sign copies of her new book, and is sure to bring something slimy for the kids. kitchenpantryscientist.com —A.K.
Heinecke’s Favorite Twin Cities Spots for Outdoor Science
• Richardson Nature Center: Full moon firefly hikes and sweep-netting prairie insects are only a few of the activities offered at this spot in the Hyland Lake Park Preserve in Bloomington. threeriversparks.org
• Wood Lake Nature Center: Nestled in the heart of Richfield, this 150-acre natural area lets you meander through wetlands on floating boardwalks. cityofrichfield.org
• Your back yard or local park: Never underestimate what you can find just outside your own backdoor. Grab the binoculars and a magnifying glass and take a nature walk.