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The Illustrated Guide to Home Chemistry Experiments

I’ve been a subscriber to O’Reilly’s Make Magazine since the first issue. I love the DIY-meets-science-geek vibe, even if I almost never build any of the projects. Make has since branched out with the Maker Faire and its sister magazine Craft. Now, they’ve started a book series called “DIY Science.” First out of the gate is The Illustrated Guide to Home Chemistry Experiments: All Lab, No Lecture, by Robert Thompson:

From the 1930s through the 1970s, chemistry sets were among the most popular Christmas gifts, selling in the millions. But two decades ago, real chemistry sets began to disappear as manufacturers and retailers became concerned about liability. The Illustrated Guide to Home Chemistry Experiments steps up to the plate with lessons on how to equip your home chemistry lab, master laboratory skills, and work safely in your lab.

Yes! I think the decline and fall of the home chemistry set is a sad, sad story. There was a segment on Wired Science last fall about it that is available on their website (and here’s an interesting blog post from The 12 Angry Men Blog). Unfortunately, a similar decline has happened in high school chemistry classrooms, as well. What’s the value of a chemistry lab if you can’t actually do chemistry? Grumble, grumble, grumble.

Of course everyone will tell you the chemistry set died thanks to the increasing litigiousness of American society. That’s probably true, but I suspect there’s another factor at work: parental cocooning. Do we really need to wrap our children in bubble wrap and follow their every move? Of course not! Yet the uproar over a mom–Lenore Skenazy–letting her 9-year-old ride the subway home alone (NY Sun Article, weblog) tells me an awful lot of people think we should. Curiously, a lot of the outraged parents say the same thing: “I did all sorts of things on my own as a kid, but the world is so different now, I’d never let my kids do that” Well, the world is different: it’s safer! Violent crime in the US is way down since I was a kid. But I digress.

Obviously, I’m not the only one who’s been thinking about this stuff. Ms. Skenazy got a lot of positive feedback amidst the uproar. Gever Tulley, founder of the Tinkering School, gave a great talk at TED that really ties together a lot of these ideas and offers some suggestions. Here it is, “5 Dangerous Things You Should Let Your Kids Do:”

I think we’ll look into sending Henry to the Tinkering School some summer. I’m sure he’ll love it. I’m not sure about letting him drive, though.

(via BoingBoing.)