Make Models of Atoms & Molecules With Kids!

3 years ago
February 27, 2014 

Sometimes homeschooling is like a water molecule: 2 atoms of information bonded to 1 atom of “don’t spend too much time worrying about kids remembering every detail…” Even if they are young, kids tend to have a natural curiosity of the world around them, and a love of science is easy to nurture. It is okay to play around with big concepts, like atoms and molecules, because having fun with it and just “bumping up against new ideas” and letting whatever nuggets settle in, creates a lifelong love of learning! Plus, if you make your own models and keep them around awhile, it is amazing to see how much really does go in there!


First I will show how we made some models at home, then will follow below with some good information to share with kids while working on your COOL MOLECULE MODELS! *See note below on what colors to choose for your atoms!!


Captain with her water molecule. We found water to be a great starter point for learning about atoms and molecules. Don’t be afraid to offer your kids a glass of H2O!


To make the models, you will need:  foam balls in 2 sizes, acrylic paints, paintbrushes, extra long or regular toothpicks, the science information listed below (or internet, books, etc. about atoms & molecules)


Step 1: Have all of your model-supplies and the information given below (or your own) ready. Talk about what an atom is and how two or more atoms joined together form a molecule.  Explain that today you will be making a model of H2O.  Water is made of 2 hydrogen atoms and 1 oxygen atom. Hydrogen and oxygen are themselves gases, but when they combine, they form water. Write “H2O” on a piece of paper and explain that “H” stands for hydrogen, and there are 2 of these molecules, and “O” stands for oxygen and there is only 1 molecule in water.


Step 2: The fun part!  Paint your foam balls with one color for oxygen and a separate color for hydrogen. As you can see in the photos, my husband was helping Captain and they just grabbed the balls and started painting. This is very messy! I recommend inserting a toothpick into each ball and holding the toothpick to paint.  :)  Allow your atoms to dry.


Step 3: Using toothpicks, connect the 2 hydrogen and 1 oxygen molecule together. All throughout the process, be sure to refer to each colored ball as “hydrogen atom”, or “oxygen atom”, and the completed model as “H2O, which stands for 2 hydrogen and 1 oxygen atom!”




We painted some extra atoms to form a carbon dioxide model as well.  Co2 is always in the following pattern: oxygen atom – carbon atom – oxygen atom.


This all may seem so very simple, or perhaps too complex, for young children to understand, but really it isn’t! The building blocks of life are fascinating! Again, to take a spin through the world of molecules and atoms can really teach kids a lot about what these things are (which builds up to so many more concepts in science later!) or just having a familiar touchstone later on when learning more about these things is priceless!

I used the following reputable sources to compile the following, basic, information to share with kids: The Random House Children’s Encyclopedia, Wikipedia, and Miles Kelly Publishing First Fun Science Encyclopedia.


Atoms are some of the smallest objects that exist – so small that they are invisible. Everything around us is built from billions of them. Atoms do not usually exist on their own, but join together to make molecules.  Two or more atoms joined together are a molecule!

Atoms are so small that even the tiniest speck of dust contains more than one million million atoms! Some substances, like iron, are made of just one kind of atom; other substances, such as water, contain molecules~ atoms joined together in groups.

An atom is made up of different types of tiny particles. The dense center is called thenucleus. Particles that carry electricity, called electrons, move around a nucleus. (Scientists have discovered how to split the nucleus, releasing enormous energy which is used in nuclear power stations, but we’ll talk about that another time!”)

Protons and Neutrons! So we know that an atom has a center called a nucleus. Is there something inside that center? Oh yes! The nucleus contains particles called protons and neutrons. These contain even smaller particles called quarks. Protons carry electricity. However, they carry a different kind of electricity from electrons. Protons have a “positive charge,” whereas electrons have a “negative charge.” Neutrons have no electrical charge.


A simple atom image from Wikipedia

A drop of water contains about 3,000 million million million molecules!

A little history… About 2,400 years ago, the Greek philosopher Democritus believed that everything was made up of tiny particles. It was not until 1808 that English scientist John Dalton proved that atoms exist. Around 1909, New Zealand scientist Ernest Rutherford discovered the nucleus. Wow, he must have been proud of himself!

Here is a link to a printable atom image from

*I need to add that there is an industry standard of what color to use to represent a particular atom which makes the atoms in more complex molecules easy to recognize. We didn’t think of that when we decided to dive right into molecular model-making. Now that I know, I will be using the correct colors! It makes sense because the same colors will come up again and again! Here is a link to the CPK Color Chart.

We love science here at Kartwheels, and are really enjoying learning about the building blocks of life. I hope you make some models yourselves too! Thanks so much for reading and I wish you all an energy-filled day.

Good thoughts and quarks, Karen

Homeschooling mom on the loose, creator of natural body products, writer

Kartwheels Homeschooling & Kid's Projects

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