Nourish your child's knowledge of nature with a colorful experiment in biology.

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Think you need a degree in biology to introduce your child to science? Fortunately, an easy experiment like this one, which shows in colorful detail how plants consume water, is all it takes to spark his curiosity.

Not only will he love watching the flowers change color as they drink the dyed water, he'll also be developing skills he can use in every school subject, says Kathleen B. Horstmeyer, director of the preschool and elementary level of the National Science Teachers Association in Philadelphia. "Science experiments help children as young as 3 become keen observers, think critically, and gain confidence in their ability to solve problems," she explains. "This project encourages kids to ask questions and offer opinions on how it worked."

You can boost the educational benefits by pointing out the flowers' veins as they change color and asking him what he thinks they're for; he may be able to guess that plants use them to feed. Then discuss why plants need water and how water overcomes gravity.

"Take the time to learn about the world together," Horstmeyer says. "If you show interest in your surroundings, your child will as well."

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  • Short drinking glasses
  • Water
  • Food coloring
  • White flowers such as carnations,daisies, or dahlias (celery
    may also be used)
  • X-Acto knife and gardening clippers
  • Magnifying glass

To conduct the experiment:

1. Fill two glasses with 2/3 cup of water each. Have your child pour half a vial of food coloring into each glass and mix. Let him choose two colors so there's a different shade in each glass.

2. Split the stem of a flower or the base of a celery stalk into two parts, and place one end in each glass. (If you prefer not to do any cutting, simply place a flower in each glass.) Trim the bottom of the stem so that the flower doesn't droop over the glass.

3. Ask your child to observe the flower with a magnifying glass. Within an hour, the veins of the stem will become colored by the food dye. The longer your child leaves the flower in the dyed water, the more color the flower will absorb. You can add to the learning by helping your child sketch the intensity of the flower's color at certain intervals (after two hours, four hours, and so on.)

4. Let him experiment with the placement of the flowers too. What happens if he leaves one on a windowsill? In a closet? Let him see that it's okay if the result isn't what he expects, Horstmeyer says: "Not even scientists know all the answers."

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Copyright ? 2001. Reprinted with permission from the November 2001 issue of Child magazine.