In first grade, young scientists often study the changes in states of matter. This is a big deal for this stage, when children tend to think in the most literal, concrete terms. If frozen water solidifies, is it still water? Here’s a powerful science experiment that also happens to be fine cuisine—perfect for a first grader who enjoys the kitchen. Use simple equipment to turn egg whites into a delicacy: fancy meringues. In the process, find out how, with just a few interventions, those wet, gooey egg whites can transform before your eyes.
What You Do:
- Start by separating the eggs. This is a very hard job for a first grader, so be ready to help. Crack the egg open, and then pour it from hand to hand to separate the white from the yolk. Meringues are ruined by the presence of even a small amount of yolk, so pour the egg whites one by one into a small bowl, and use the other small bowl for yolks. After you’ve separated each egg, you can pour the white into the large bowl. That way, if you make a goof, you can always start over with one egg at a time.
- Once you’ve poured all 5 egg whites into the big bowl, you’re ready for the really fun stuff. Add the cream of tartar, and then have your child use the hand cranked egg beater to whip the eggs. Note: many people use electric beaters, but we recommend the hand variety. They provide excellent practice for little hands that are learning to coordinate their movements! NOTE: Cream of tartar can be dangerous if consumed before baking. Be sure an adult is present during the mixing process.
- Invite your child to beat, beat, beat the egg whites until they are pure white in color, and stiff to the touch. This will take some time; don’t give up! Beat until the eggs can stand up by themselves if you pull the egg beater out, and maintain stiff peaks.
- Slowly add sugar and stir it in, being careful not to overbeat. Then take a spoon and use it to spoon the glop onto a cookie sheet to make small meringue cookie “kisses.” Note: it will be tempting to taste the meringue raw, but don’t! This mixture is made of raw egg, which can have dangerous bacteria inside. Instead, wait until the cookies are done.
- Bake the cookies at 225° for about about one and a half hours. Now they’ll change again—they’ll come out of the oven dry, crisp, and light brown!
You’ve made a delicious, sugary dessert, but you’ve also rearranged the inner structure of that egg! Egg whites are actually full of water and protein. When egg is first cracked, the stuff comes out in a blob. But when you beat the egg, you rearrange the structure of its proteins. They start out all tangled, but beating breaks them up and then they realign, forming the big, puffy solid mass that makes meringues. Then, when you bake meringues, most of the water inside evaporates, leaving the crispy protein shell. As for the sugar—it changes, too, as its crystals dissolve.
Julie Williams, M.A. Education, taught middle and high school History and English for seventeen years. Since then, she has volunteered in elementary classrooms while raising her two sons and earning a master's in school administration. She has also been a leader in her local PTA.