Challenges in chromatography

Boybug likes chromatography. It’s his new hobby. To start with I was a little sceptical, but I’ve decided to embrace it.

His first experiment was rudimentary. While I was distracted, he sucked on a blue felt tip pen. Not any blue felt tip pen, no. The over-sized, toxic, choking hazard of a pen that comes free with those magazines Girlbug demands every time we go to the post office!

Boybug’s findings were thus:

  1. The end of a felt tip goes white if sucked enough
  2. Girlbug is overly attached to her magazine tat, and gets very upset if it’s touched, let alone sucked to death.
  3. It takes around 3 hours for a tongue to go back to normal colour (with some scrubbing and copious amounts of water) and Motherbug won’t let you out of the house until this has happened!
  4. Your drool turns blue. Felt tip still stains when mixed with drool, and Motherbug doesn’t like blue drool stains on her trousers.

After that foray into chromatography, we saw a video doing the rounds of a little boy, some food colouring, kitchen roll and some plastic cups. “Let’s do it” I thought. The only parts I had were the little boy (albeit about 6 years younger than the one in the video) and the kitchen roll. But, with glasses instead of plastic cups (risky!) and felt tip pens, we improvised.


chromatography experiment
The various stages of a preschool science experiment

Here are the various stages of our experiment.

Stage 1: Initial enthusiasm. Explaining to the kids that the water will creep up the kitchen towel. I asked Girlbug what might happen: “the ends of the pens will go white like when Boybug sucks them”. Correct!

Stage 2: Boybug decides as we are sitting at the kitchen table it’s probably time for a snack. Motherbug remembers the original video was a timelapse and begins to appreciate why!

Stage 3: Girlbug worries about the decimation of her pen supply and decides we should do a quick survey of the arts and craft materials….and make some pictures while we’re at it. Boybug seizes the opportunity to suck more pens and eat googly eyes!

Stage 4: The best example of chromatography is soaking the pen off Girlbug’s top. Far more vivid than dipping the pen in a glass of water!

And here is our finished (I say finished, it’s about half an hour in…when we had lost interest) product. Some water moved across, which the kids thought was cool. And it kind of had a purple tinge to it. Less water (i.e.using small plastic cups), more potent colours (i.e. food colouring) and more patience (i.e. older children) would probably lead to more success. Here’s the original!


Results of our chromatography experiment
Chromatography: the results

Do you like getting messy with the kids? I always like the idea of it, but then get a bit itchy part way through!

Motherbug x

Edit: After a few hours it worked! Much excitement in the Bug household 🙂



3 thoughts on “Challenges in chromatography

  1. Brings back memories! I always had really good intentions of doing messy play with the kids and then spent the whole time stressing about how messy everything was!


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