Summertime…and the living is easy… (I LOVE that song, don’t you?) But not always if you’re the proud owner of a swimming pool. I know, I know, that sounds silly, doesn’t it? I mean, all my life I dreamed of owning a swimming pool…and when we found the house we currently live in 8 years ago – and it had one – I knew we just HAD to buy it!
Well, that was the end of “easy” summer times for me! But I’ve finally found a way to win them back for myself – and turn it into a homeschool lesson or two (smile). Let me explain!
I firmly believe that life is all about learning – and learning is all of life. So when I incorporate certain chores into our homeschool routine, I always approach it with these questions: what can the kids (and I!) learn from this? How can this (study or topic or subject) add to their abilities and experiences to enrich and improve their lives?
So it only made sense that during the summertime, when pool maintenance is a definite daily chore around here, that we add that one to the mix! My two older boys had just finished chemistry this year, so my mind was already thinking that way, and after some deliberation, I decided that this was a great way to build some “real life” applications to those studies, while introducing my middle schooler to the same.
- My kids weren’t exactly jazzed about “doing school”. I get that, it’s been a tough year around here. But I still stand strong in the “lifestyle of learning” principle. And since the pool is gonna be a good part of their lifestyle this summer…
- Unit studies, as you may know, are generally considered “cross-curricular”, meaning they include other subjects. Yes, they will be doing quite a bit of reading as well as some math, but the bulk of this will be research oriented and hands-on. We’re already working on some online studies this summer that are tech-related, so I decided to keep this primarily a STEM activity.
- It was important to me that they see this as a real-life answer to the question that so many kids ask of so many subjects: “How am I ever going to use this (and in this case, chemistry) in REAL life?”
So how DO we make learning chemistry cool?
Well, it all starts with getting in our bathing suits!
First up: measuring the pool and discovering the volume of water. Grab a tape measure and measure the width and length, and then the depth at the either end. Enter your measurements in this handy-dandy pool volume calculator and make note of the answer. This will come in to play later.
Our studies continue with a poolside discussion of the water. What color is it? Is it clear? If not, why not? What kind of things might make it discolored? What are the differences between water, say, in a pond or swimming lake, or the ocean, and a pool? I’m sure you can come up with other questions, too (and do feel free to leave them in the comments – thank you!).
Next, we do a simple water test. I found this kit on Amazon, and the reason I like it is because inside the cover is a really, really useful insert that not only explains how to do the tests, but tells you what the results mean. So…if our pH is low, we learn how to increase it. If we need to raise the alkalinity, we learn not only how to lower it, but what can happen if it stays too high for too long. (Dontcha just love when you find a tool that helps make your teaching job a little bit easier?!)
Based on our results, we head out to the pool supply store and buy whatever chemicals are called for. If this is the first time you’re testing on your own, you may want to bring a water sample with you and ask them to test it at the store. In my experience they do it for free, and this way you can take the results home and compare your findings. You’ll also find that their test results are quite a bit more detailed, which will give you great fodder for more in-depth studies!
Note: Once you’re actually dealing with adding the chemicals to water, you WILL want to exercise caution. And always have the kiddos wear eye protection while working with chemicals (it’s not a bad idea for you, too, mom!). While at this point I’m totally comfortable with even my middle-schooler handling the chemicals we use in our pool, you will want to work closely with your kids to get to that point. Help them understand the caution statements and first-aid procedures on any containers, and then I would recommend this 3-step process:
- Have them watch you add the chemicals.
- Assist them (or vice versa) with adding them.
- Finally, watch closely as they do it a time or two. Remember, you have all summer (yay!) and learning takes time.
Once back home, it’s back to the pool with water test results and chemicals in hand. But before you just dump the chemicals in willy-nilly, and at any point in the steps described above, talk about what is going on. For example, why are we adding the conditioner to the skimmer? What effect does that have on the chlorine? Why are we adding this much muriatic acid or baking soda or…(the answer to that last one has everything to do with the water volume we figured out when we got started, remember?).
Other pool chemistry-related activities
Since we’re dealing with chemicals, our studies should, of course, include a study of the periodic table, or at least becoming familiar with it. A while back I made my own copy of this really creative periodic table “Battle Ship” game. It was all OVER the internet, and turns out my daughter loves playing it, too! This is a fun little game that doesn’t take long, most kids are already familiar with the format, and it just keeps “the table” and those basic building blocks of chemistry in front of their eyes… Good stuff!
Other related activities I have the kids do include a word-search game, a list of chemicals to look up, a vocabulary list to learn, and then, of course, the hands-on stuff. You could have hands-on learners build a model of a chlorine or bromine molecule. Computer-related learning could be incorporated, too! Why not create a Venn diagram using Canva, comparing pool water and lake water? (Their Design School has a great bunch of tutorials to help you learn how to use it, too!) Or visually explain how free/total/combined chlorine works using a few PowerPoint slides? (And here’s a great youTube video that explains that concept very clearly.)
I’d also recommend this book by Allan Curtis, Ask the Pool Guy: Everyday Guide to Swimming Pools. Very clearly presents, in layman’s terms, the basics of pool care, and they make themselves available, via their website, if you have any other questions or problems. (Sometimes I like going to a neutral 3rd party for advice – makes me feel like they’re not trying to just get me to buy something…)
Other questions to explore
What’s so important about alkalinity? – The measure of alkalinity is one of the components of the test kit we use, but an aspect of pool care that I didn’t realize was so important till fairly recently!) This is a short article that explains the role of pool alkalinity in plain English.
What’s the scoop on Cyanuric acid? – While this is a super-advanced paper, I include it for 2 reasons. It’s a real-life application of science to a life subject/activity, and if you scroll through and read topic headings, some of the first paragraphs under those headings, and the bolded texts, you can learn quite a bit from this. It would be a good paper to use to help teach your kids some note-taking and summarizing skills.
What’s the difference between chlorine and bromine? – They’re both sanitizers, right?
Have I piqued your interest?
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