I introduced organic chemistry building toys to my son (and his friends) as soon as they stopped putting small objects in their mouths, around 2 years old.
It started as a part of the first Dinosaur Week, when I played Enter Life by Faith Hubley and I had to describe that CHON is Carbon, Hydrogen, Oxygen and Nitrogen, that all life is made of them and how they’re connected to build larger molecules. I still love that haunting cartoon, it played in the Smithsonian Paleontology hall for most of my life.
It evolved into a game that we play across country with a child/friend set that lives in Maryland. The kids take pictures of the molecules they’ve build and we email them back and forth. After a few months of the game, we made a book about it.
The molecule building set is right above the wooden blocks in the toy cupboard and they’re a favorite building toy. So, yup. These four year olds get the basics of some organic chemistry (I get a lot of quizzical looks about that).
I’m delighted that Zev has started spontaneously building small molecules and bringing them to me to match the activities that we’re doing. For example CO2 for the dry ice and laser game we just played after dinner.
Most recently though, it’s become a regular feature in other games as the kids play other narrative games, like Countries of the World.