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Kirkland mom creates 'Candy Experiments' to combat Halloween candy overload
Six years ago, just after Halloween, a 4-year-old girl asked her mother what would happen if she put her Nerds candy in water. Initially thinking it a silly idea, Kirkland resident Loralee Leavitt went along with her daughter’s request.
“Then we threw it away and a few days later she wanted to do it again,” Leavitt said. “And that’s when it hit me — she wants to destroy her candy!”
She enthusiastically lined her kitchen table with bowls of water and the idea for “Candy Experiments” was born.
Now, after launching a website, publishing a book, being invited to a Washington DC science festival and numerous interviews and articles later, it’s safe to say Leavitt’s life has changed.
“I hope to help people think about what they’re really eating so that they can make good decisions,” said Leavitt, who has lived in Kirkland for 11 years. “Candy experiments are my contribution to the fight against obesity.”
One of the experiments has children weigh out how much candy it takes to equal the same amount of sugar in a bottle of soda. She said it’s to help people think about what they’re eating because “you’d never sit down and eat 12 rolls of Smarties.”
“I want to give families another way to enjoy all the candy they work so hard to collect on Halloween,” she said.
Leavitt and her children Katherine and Alex started the project from the ground up in 2007. They noticed M&M "m's" would float in water and Yogos would look like dinosaur shells when they cracked open.
The next year, they wanted to do it again but Leavitt thought she’d have to expand the experiments to hold her children’s attention, as they were a year older.
After rounding up ideas from other people that year, she also decided her family’s home experiments could be shared with her community.
Her website www.candyexperiments.com was launched in 2009 and she was featured in Family Fun magazine, which helped spread the word among bloggers and home school forums.
Leavitt, a stay-at-home mother of four children, said she went through a great chemistry program for three years at Bellevue High School, she minored in physics and majored in English at Brigham Young University, and was a technical writer after that. And with some experience in helping children write, she said her past education and experiences laid the foundation for her to publish her book “Candy Experiments” in 2012.
Although Leavitt and her children invented the majority of the 60-or-so experiments outlined in the book, some engineers and chemists also contributed. The $14.99 book, designed for children around the ages of 7-10, has directions on how to do candy experiments, which include lessons written in a kid-friendly way.
Children can learn about density and buoyancy through experiments that challenge them to make marshmallows sink in water by squashing them. Chromatography, the separation of a mixture through a scientific procedure, can be understood by separating the colors of M&Ms and children can learn capillary action by dipping cotton candy in water.
“If you get the kids and you give them their bowls of water, their baking soda to stir in, and freedom, they will just go to town and start playing with it,” Leavitt said.
One of the Leavitt’s favorite experiments includes putting baking soda in water and dropping the sour acidic Warheads in the mixture.
But Leavitt’s 5-year-old Rebecca, who has been doing candy experiments her whole life, has her own favorite.
“My favorite experiment is the one where the [candy] hearts have bubbles and then they float up to the top, kind of like life jackets,” she said.
Since Leavitt launched her website, she’s done a lot of outreach and has been featured in local radio and TV shows, including Evening Magazine, Good Day Northwest, Northwest Families, ParentMap and Miami Family, to name a few.
However, being personally invited three times to present her experiences at the USA Science and Engineering Festival tops the list.
“The founder of this festival … he’s very concerned about our country, that we are falling behind in the science education compared to a bunch of other countries around the world and we spend so much time focusing on celebrities and entertainment,” she said. “He wants science to be cool.”
Leavitt’s booth at the festival was among hundreds of exhibitors, including NASA, PBS, the National Institute of Health, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Harvard University and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.
Leavitt will make her third visit in April 2014 to the USA Science and Engineer Festival in Washington DC. Seattle native Bill Nye has also done presentations at the festival.
“This, what we’re doing, is science and I’m hoping that kids who do this kind of stuff start seeing that we do some very cool things and we’re learning science as we do it,” she said. “I’m hoping that will carry them on to the next level where they get into their high school classes and they’ll be interested in it instead of just bored.”
To help Leavitt demonstrate her candy experiments at the USA Science and Engineer Festival, donate at www.indiegogo.com/projects/get-kids-excited-about-science-with-candy-experiments.
Leavitt’s next book signing will be at 3 p.m., Nov. 16 at Barnes and Noble in Bellevue, 626 106th Ave. NE. For more information about “Candy Experiments,” visit www.candyexperiments.com.