Tips for Parents: How To Present Chemistry To Gifted Children
Bondora, T.
Davidson Institute for Talent Development

This Tips for Parents article is from a seminar hosted by Teresa Bondora, who provides parents advice on how to introduce chemistry to gifted students.

Why present it early?

The periodic table represents what our world is made of. It is easy to learn and paves the way for interest and easy learning in chemistry. Our gifted children tend to excel in the sciences and maths and can get ahead of themselves and lost in the “doing” of chemistry without getting the background information. By starting them early with the basics of the table, atomic structure, electrons, bonding and the basic rules, laws and constants, we set the stage for them to launch into practical lab situations with a better understanding.

Here’s the coloring book if you would like to get a copy of it:

The Periodic Table

When we look at any square on the table we are looking at a symbol that represents an element. In nature, some elements may exist in various forms. Inside the nucleus of an atom are two types of particles, protons and neutrons. Protons have a charge and neutrons, as the name implies are neutral. Outside the nucleus in the space surrounding it are particles called electrons. They have a negative charge. Items on the table are arranged in rows and columns based on features they have. Just like you could be grouped in a column of males or females or maybe in a row of others of your race, elements share things in common with others in their period (row) or group (column). To make it easy to speak of and refer to different groups they are numbered 1 through 18. If you come across an older periodic table, you may see it numbered with roman numerals and letters (A and B).

Each element has a unique number of protons in its nucleus therefore each element has a unique atomic number. This is what makes an atom of one element different from an atom of another element!


How electrons are situated around the nucleus is an amazing thing to learn about. Because electrons are charged, there must be some rules that they have to live by. They are tiny but pack a lot of energy. They are in motion all of the time but have limited spaces where they can exist. Where they reside are called orbitals. There are a few simple rules to learn about electrons. The number of protons and neutrons in an atom remain constant, but because electrons move around the nucleus, they are free to be taken or added to. This is chemistry. The addition or removal of electrons creates all the different things our universe is made of.

Element Names

From the beginning of science’s attempts to name and catalog each element, it was decided that the discoverer of the element should name the element. For a period of time it was customary to use the suffix- ium to all elements and so you will find that most elements have that ending. The ancient elements have the original names given to them through their own history. Other elements were named based on the other elements in their column on the periodic table. You will find this in column 17 beginning with fluorine. They all have –ine endings to keep with the others in their group. All of this info is included in my periodic table of elements coloring book under each element in case you were wanting to know what info might be in it.

You will find that some symbols for the elements do not match their name. This is because a symbol, once it is selected, is a symbol for that element. If the element is renamed, the symbol is still the symbol and does not change. An example of this is lead. Lead’s original name is plumbum, the Latin ancient term for it. The symbol, Pb was given to lead before its name was changed so it remained. Incidentally, it is cool to notice that we call people who work with pipes that carry water, plumbers. Pipes used to be made of lead.

Element Groups

On the far left of the table, elements are metals. On the farthest right, they are gasses. As you move your way across the table left to right, they slowly change properties and become metal to transition to solid to gas.

The transition metals are the elements 21 to 30, 39 to 48 and 71 to 80.

The types of elements are listed differently depending on the book you read but the common way to list them is like this:

Alkali Metals
Alkaline Earth Metals
Transition Elements- divided into groups that differ depending on your source
Boron Group
Carbon Group
Nitrogen Group
Oxygen Group
Halogen Group
Noble Gasses

Two Types of Bonds

In an ionic bond, the electrons which are shared, spend more of their time with one atom than with the other. The molecule isn’t going to be perfectly balanced, it will have one or more of its atoms having a charge so one end may have a bit of a charge even though the whole molecule works and is balanced. Within that balance there is still a bit of a positive charge in one area of it. This is an ionic bond.

Then there’s the bond where the electron spends an equal amount of time in both atoms. It would be a cooperative thing, therefore, co-valent bond. Valent, outer electrons, co- cooperating. So in a covalent bond they share.

Lets bond:

All atoms want their outer shells to be full. So even atoms like sodium, number 11 with only 1 valence electron (outer electron) still wants a full shell. And how many does sodium need? It needs 8 to be full or better yet, just get rid of the one. It has one already so it needs 7 more. Well, what if it found an atom with 7 valence electrons it could give the one away to? Would that be the one it would bond with? Could it be that easy? Yep! It’s that easy.

So…..which element has 7 valence electrons? I see chlorine and fluorine right off the bat. They both have 7. This seems like a match made in heaven. When sodium meets fluorine it’s love at first sight and bond they do. What do they make? Sodium fluoride. You know, the stuff in toothpaste. What if sodium bonded with chlorine? You’d get sodium chloride. The stuff on your table that you put on your food: salt.

As you may have guessed by now, so far I haven’t mentioned bonding the last column, helium, with anything. Why?

Yep, because their outer shells are full and they are happy just like they are. They do not bond naturally with any other elements. Man has tried to force them to bond and sometimes with disastrous results.

Metals and metallic bonds

Metals make a completely different kind of bond that, to me, is just crazy and cool and bizarre. It fascinated me the day I learned about it and still fascinates me today.

This type of bond is called a sea of electrons. They all line up and make a grid of all the protons, then the electrons all spread out evenly between them completely shared and given up to the whole of the metal. Because of this, no matter how you bend or move it, it will stay intact because the electrons are all connected in a web.


It’s not hard to recognize a gas. You can’t see it. You probably know already that the actual atoms or molecules are as far apart as they can get. In a liquid they are closer together and in a solid they are tightly packed. The elements in the far right column of the periodic table are all gasses. There are other elements that can be gasses depending on their structure and how they behave under certain conditions. But we can count on all the elements in the far right column to be gasses.

I sort of divide chemistry into these parts:

The math
The periodic table- bonding, weights and electron activity
The rules, laws and constants
If you introduce the kids to the table and bonding and types of elements, you’ve covered a lot of it for them. If we add the rules, laws and constants then all that’s left is the math. The math is very simple. It’s just basic algebra. And when I say basic, I mean, seriously, first semester.

Next some resources recommended by attendees of the seminar and myself. Afterward, an article on the history of alchemy and modern chemistry written by me.

Compendium of Chemistry Resources

One of the parents with user name EconProf decided to start a topic for posting any chemistry resources other parents have found for their kids. I have gathered those and put them together here for you.

The University of Nottingham chemistry dept. has spent time developing a very nice collection of videos on the elements and the peri-odic table. I am a HUGE fan of theirs. All are available on their youtube channel here:

The Periodic Table of Elements Coloring Book by Teresa Bondora, more than a coloring book, with facts about each element’s discov-ery, use and how and where it is found or mined. Available at all major retailers. A great resource to introduce the table to children very early and will be enjoyed by the older kids also.

Discovery Channel’s books on the elements. Elements (by David Krasnow ,Tom Seddon Discovery Channel School Science) Available on Amazon

The Periodic Table of Elements, A Short Introduction by my friend, Eric Scerri (UCLA) also available on Amazon

Here's a nice interactive Scientific American has created:

Econ Prof donated these resources

1. The NOVA elements show
2. Making things smaller/smarter/cleaner/etc. also with David Pogue
3. Snap circuits has some great experiments involving electrical conductivity of water and salt water ( I second this one, my son loves their stuff!)
4. The elements book featured in the NOVA show

And this is from user, debonte:

My kids have enjoyed the basher science books, which has a book on chemistry that is basically a walk through of the periodic table of elements. Cute illustrations and some memorable text/analogies when describing each element.

TX G mom donated these resources:

The Elements - A Visual Exploration of Every Known Atom in the Universe by Theodore Gray This book has many photos and shows what the element looks like in addition to photos of multiple items made from each element. It also includes easy to understand text. As far as interactive science websites, the following two are good.

( DD's science teacher used Stem-scopes last year at school.

And user, HuntersCreekSix seconded the recommendation for which she says is from Rice University.

Alchemy and How Chemistry Got Its Start Mysticism

Early chemistry started as far back as 3000BC in the fertile crescent area of the middle east near Egypt with women mixing oils to make perfumes, medicine people‟s mixing drugs, and the creation of dyes for material and clothing. The word chemistry comes from ancient Egypt. Khem is the ancient Egyptian word for the fertile land around the Nile. Early Egyptians studied materials and chemicals needed for mummification. Alexander The Great from Greece, conquered Egypt. The Greeks had divided the elements into Earth, Air, Fire and Water and the blending of this work with the Egyptian mummification and those chemical processes became Khemia, based on the information they learned from the Egyptians. This connecting of chemistry to the process of mummification and preserving the bodies of the dead created a kind of mysticism to the chemical arts and it became associated with trying to create immortality.

During this time metal smithing was emerging and the blending of copper with arsenic, antimony and tin brought on the bronze age. Smiths were revered and highly regarded for their craft and ability to mix coppers with different substances to create perfect tools and weapons. But for all the craft and chemistry involved, they were not seen as chemists, only as metal smiths and highly revered for their trade. This work with metals continued to be separate from the search for immortality with chemicals. In the year 296, Diocletian, a Roman emperor, sought out and burned all the Egyptian books on alchemy and the other Hermetic sciences, destroying the details of progress made up to that date.

Arabs occupied Egypt in the 7th century. The Arabic word for “the” is “al”. The Arabs added “al” to Khemia and Alchemy became the study of chemicals and their connection to mysticism. The Greek word for fluids is kumos and this could also possibly be another root of the origin of the word alchemy.

During this time, simultaneously, China and India were also doing their own work in alchemy. China had developed the work on the outer elixir and inner elixir. Outer focused on more traditional chemical pursuits like plants and minerals but only in relation to their ability to prolong life. India worked more with metals in their pursuit to prolong life and were the first to discover steel.

The Philosopher's Stone

By the year 1000AD, much of our world was focused on metals because the discovery of mixing them created the world's first very strong metals for weapons and vessels and nails and hinges. This changed the world and now metals were all the rage. Gold was seen as the perfect, higher metal and everything else was a lower metal. Much of the world became consumed with the idea that you could turn other metals into gold. After failing many times, a belief began to surface that the missing ingredient was a substance called The Philosopher‟s Stone. It was believed that this thing which also provided immortality, would turn metals into gold. So, many went out in search of the Philosopher‟s Stone.


Alchemy showed up as early as the first century AD in Europe, but it was during the 8th century that alchemy really began to spread with the Arabs taking it to Western Europe. As time progressed, those who worked with chemicals did so to try and create smoke and make things bubble or disappear, like magic tricks. These tricks were performed for kings and queens and visiting royalty.

In Europe, alchemy led to the discovery of many alloys and chemical processes and the apparatus required for them. Eventually, by the 16th Century, the alchemists in Europe had separated into two groups. The first group we learn about in our studies on the discovery of the elements. They worked on the discovery of new compounds and their reactions - leading to what is now the science of chemistry. But the other group continued to look at the more spiritual, metaphysical side of alchemy, still working on immortality and the transmutation of lower metals into gold.

And an activity you can do with your kids….

Basket 1: Everything in the universe is made up of elements from the Periodic Table of the Elements. To help our children learn to be comfortable with the table and with chemistry we can show them what their world is made of. Get a basket or bin and start collecting items from your surroundings to place in the basket. Some ideas are; a penny for copper, a nickel for nickel, aluminum foil or a soda pop can for aluminum, a balloon that holds helium to tie to the basket handle, a piece of charcoal (or show them a diamond ring!) for carbon, a calcium pill or tablet or an animal bone for calcium, iron shavings or a small iron skillet for iron, cubic zircon ring for zirconium and bottled iodine for iodine. Safety Note: Some pure elements are very hazardous. Do not use them! (Examples: mercury (Hg), chlorine (Cl), fluorine (F), lithium (Li), lead (Pb), radon (Rn) and others!)

The appearance of any information in the Davidson Institute's Database does not imply an endorsement by, or any affiliation with, the Davidson Institute. All information presented is for informational purposes only and is solely the opinion of and the responsibility of the author. Although reasonable effort is made to present accurate information, the Davidson Institute makes no guarantees of any kind, including as to accuracy or completeness. Use of such information is at the sole risk of the reader.

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