Move over, chia pets. (But just further down the counter a bit, we still love you.) There is a new grow-your-own pet in town, and fair warning, it can be a bit prickly. Popular online retailer, Always Fits, is taking the idea of countertop pet growing to a whole new level, combining the cool science of STEM with the culture's collective fascination with tiny creatures. This grow-your-own crystal hedgehog could not be any cuter, and is fully grown in just 24 hours.
This cool STEM kit from maker Schylling contains a gypsum base, a growing container, crystal powder, and a hedgehog figurine. The instructions are clear and concise, making the science experiment/craft project basically foolproof. Yes, because there is boiling water being used, and it will require supervision, but kids will love helping to put it all together and then watching it grow over the course of a day.
Unlike other grow-your-own pets, this one grows quickly enough that children won't get bored with it. It is something they can just check on a few times throughout the day, and observe the evolution of the figurine as the hedgehog begins to grow its crystals exactly where his spikes would be if he were real.
Projects like these allow for several different types of scientific learning. The first thing I would do if I were doing this project with my daughter would be to get a little lesson on the properties of gypsum — the powder that helps to create the crystals that form on the hedgehog. I would look with her and discover where gypsum is found, how its crystals are formed, and what other minerals it interacts with in the environment. Thankfully, there are a lot of good resources about this available online, like the Minerals Education Coalition.
After that, we could discuss at what temperature water begins to boil, (made even more interesting if you live at a higher elevation), and why heating things at the boiling point might change them. Now, Schylling does not specifically say what the "crystal powder" is, but I remember growing crystals with gypsum in general chemistry, and we used a borax powder, so I am assuming that is what it is as it creates fast crystals when placed in boiling water. Even if that's not the case, going through Scientific American and reading about it together is still pretty fun.
Next, you can teach your child how to record their observations. This could be some combination of drawings or cell phone pictures, with measurements and descriptions written down. Something like "crystals are roughly the height of a pencil eraser six hours after boiling..." and so on. You could even line it all up on a bullet journal with time stamps and other notations.
I love this grow-your-own crystal hedgehog, but it's not the only fun toy that Always Fits has on their website — far from it. This is just the cutest. It's easy to get so bogged down when all you hear are experts who tell you how important STEM learning is, that you forget how fun science can be. It's not all coding and math. It's also baking soda and vinegar volcanoes, microwaving marshmallows, shrinky dinks, and yes, this new grow-your-own-crystal hedgehog. Learning the scientific process can be a chore, but it doesn't have to be. We can teach our children to celebrate the mysteries of the universe simply by showing them that you can grow crystals from powder and boiling water, and that it can actually be a pretty great time.
This is the perfect rainy fall day activity. When you can't think of one more way to entertain your children, this little kit can help a great deal.