How much salt is in the ocean?

This week’s family fencing was lovely. And before my son’s lesson, when we picked up our friend, his little brother gushed to me about his first performance on stage. He’d worked hard and will be in his very first musical, and he talked about dress rehearsal and the costumes and his role. And I loved every minute of it because that’s another bug I love to see children catch. Theater and fencing in one day? Heaven.

So I thought about what’s important to share with my children. Making memories and building traditions and exposing them to what’s important: how do we choose, given limited time and limited resources? My answer has always been to plan in advance and prepare carefully. But life is getting way too messy for that.

We’ve always been a science-y family. When Peanut got lice, he was so excited because he wanted to see them under the microscope. When he asked which weighed more—orange juice or milk—we experimented to find out. But I’ve gotten away from experiments because I have no time to prep. I have client work and Board work and friendships to cultivate and a novel to edit and December to surmount. I can’t manage science, too.

Except I can.

So when Peanut asked how much salt is in the ocean, we looked it up. And we concocted simulated ocean water: 3.5 tablespoons of salt to 1 liter of water.

Then, in two separate containers, we made a saturated and a supersaturated saline solution: two jam jars, one with hot water and one with cold. We just kept adding salt, a teaspoon at a time, until one solution couldn’t hold any more.

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We added another teaspoon to see if anything surprising precipitated out. And then we kept going until the second jar hit its salt maximum.

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We watched over the next hour as the hot solution cooled to see if it would shake any of its salt out or if the cold solution would suck up a bit more.

Everyone tasted the solutions. And spat them out in horror, answering Peanut’s question about why you can’t just drink ocean water if you’re thirsty. (Butter made every guest that evening taste some, and to his delight, they were all horrified, too.)

And then the kids got bored. But I kept the solutions (and not just because they had several dollars’ worth of sea salt in them.)

The next day when they were getting on each other’s nerves, I asked them to find tiny objects. Ad we floated them in tap water, ocean water, and hypotonic saline. Bread ties, sunflower seeds, dried macaroni, plastic lids, flashlight parts.

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Maybe I can actually work this in. One small step at a time.

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