By: Teo Spengler
It is never too early to get kids interested in plants andthe ways Mother Nature has equipped them to survive. Even young tots can graspcomplex concepts, like osmosis, if you create experiments that hold theirattention. Here’s one to get you started: the great celery dye experiment.
This is a great family project that involves celery sticksthat turn colors as they absorb colored water. Read on for instructions on howto dye celery.
Celery Dye Experiment
Kids know that garden plants don’t eat or drink like peopledo. But an explanation of osmosis – the process by which plants uptake waterand nutrients – can quickly get too confusing for young children.
By engaging your younger kids, even toddlers,in the celery dye experiment, they will get to see plants drinking instead ofhearing an explanation of it. And because changing the color of celery is fun,the entire experiment should be an adventure.
How to Dye Celery
You don’t need much to get this color changing celeryproject underway. In addition to celery,you’ll need a few clear glass jars or cups, water and food coloring.
Explain to your children that they are about to do anexperiment to see how plants drink. Then have them line up the glass jars orcups on the kitchen counter or table and fill each one with about 8 ounces ofwater. Let them put 3 or 4 drops of one shade of the food coloring into eachcup.
Separate the celery packet into stalks with leaves, cuttinga little off the bottom of each stalk. Pull out lighter leafier stalks from thecenter of the bunch and have your kids put several in each jar, stirring up thewater and blending in the food coloring drops.
Have your children guess what might happen and write downtheir predictions. Let them check on the color changing celery after 20minutes. They should see the dye color in little dots in the tops of thestalks. Rip open one piece of celery of each color to trace from the inside howwater is mounting.
Check again after 24 hours. Which colors spread best? Letyour kids vote on the prediction that came to closest to what happened.
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Read more about Children's Gardens
How does water travel through a plant? By process of osmosis, and you can show this right in your own kitchen with just a few simple items! We love kitchen science that is not only easy to set up but frugal too! Learn about osmosis with just a couple stalks of celery.
Plants are filled with cells and the water moves through the cells and cell walls by the process of osmosis. This process of filling the cells also stiffens the stalks, stems, and leaves. This is known as turgor pressure. Without water, the cells lose their shape because this pressure is not there without the necessary water. If you see a wilted or droopy looking plant this is what’s happening! Give it some water and observe the results!
We can check this all out with some food coloring, water, and celery! To make this into a true experiment with one variable that’s different, you will want to have an extra stalk of celery. Read more here about introducing the scientific method to young kids.
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Dyed Celery Experiment: Transpiration Demonstration
Learn about how transpiration works in plants with this classic dyed celery experiment for kids!
This dyed celery experiment is a classic science demonstration that shows how plants use transpiration to suck up water. We really enjoyed this white carnation experiment a couple of years back and decided to repeat the same idea, this time using celery for comparison. The results were just as clear, but maybe not quite as pretty!
fresh celery stems with the leaves still attached
Wilton Gel Colourings [using this type of colouring is important as liquid dyes and weaker gel colours just don’t work as effectively.]
Fill the glass jars 1/3 full of water and then add 1 tsp of the Wilton gel colour to each one. We found the darker colours worked the best, but you can of course experiment and try all of them! It would be a good discussion to hypothesise why some colours may work better than others.
Cut your celery stems on a diagonal to allow the greatest possible surface area for the coloured water to pass through (like when cutting fresh flower stems to put into a vase.)
Then simply place them into the jars of dyed water and either take photographs or make observational drawings of their appearance straight away. This time we took photos, in our last experiment we made drawings which you can see here.
The dye starts to travel very quickly, and within half an hour we could already see colours moving up the stems.
Within 24 hours the leaves had all been well reached and dyed due to the water reaching them. The girls noted that they could see the clear lines going up the stems and guessed these were to main channels for the water reaching the leaves above.
We took more photos to note the changes that had taken place. The green and blue dyes were the most effective, although the red was also clearly visible too.
This is such a lovely, visual demonstration that even the youngest child can take part and be wowed by it. Older kids can do this for science projects as an easily manageable piece of independent research, with the next step being to find out how it works and why, perhaps comparing it to other flowers and/or vegetables too.
What they are learning as they play:
science: thinking, hypothesising, making comparisons, understanding how water moves through a plant
See all of our other SCIENCE ACTIVITIES for preschoolers and school age kids.
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The Scientific Method: Make Predictions
We started off with red, yellow, and green, but N really wanted to mix colors and added blue and red to the green water (far right). We revisited our earlier discussion and made predictions about how the celery might change.
While waiting for something to happen, I chopped the celery heart off the bottom of the stalk and set up a printing activity.
N humored me by making a few prints and then asked if she could play with colored water. Totally!
While I only have one photo of this, it was probably the highlight of the afternoon.
When we checked the celery a couple hours later, this is what it looked like. I put a leafy top next to it so you can see how subtle the change is. Hmmm. While I could see the change, I wasn’t sure it would make a big impact on my daughter. And then I realized that I should have just put the leafy parts in the water for a more dramatic result. Done!
A few hours later the blue/green had the most pronounced shift, but the red and yellow were visibly different too.
Here’s a side-by-side comparison of the red and blue-green died celery tops, about 16 hours after the stalks had been sitting in the water. N seemed to appreciate the difference, but wasn’t nearly as impressed as her dad and I were.
Evaporation can affect the rate at which water and dye moves through the veins. For any of these experiments, turn on a blowing fan and place it in front of the glasses. The fan should cause the water to evaporate, which should slow the movement of water and may potentially limit how far the water travels. Watch the leaves for several days to note changes and mark the progress for each day.
Maria Magher has been working as a professional writer since 2001. She has worked as an ESL teacher, a freshman composition teacher and an education reporter, writing for regional newspapers and online publications. She has written about parenting for Pampers and other websites. She has a Master's degree in English and creative writing.