Saturday, March 23, 2013

Making Our Own Soap

I often contemplate whether or not our homeschooling approach is good.  We do a mix of online curriculum, reading classic books, and hands-on activities, not to mention the outside classes they have in art, science, martial arts and dancing.  I recently tried to decide which hands-on activities are most valuable.  It struck me that we should try to make as many of the things we use as possible - if not on an ongoing basis, at least once or twice to get a sense of what's involved.

Soap is something that I hadn't though about too much except I was pretty sure that what we were buying in the store wasn't all that healthy.  Once I researched it, however, I found out that so many academic subjects could be covered in making soap so there is value across age groups.  There's safety, chemistry, math, social studies, art, reading, and research skills.

Safety is very important since you are handling lye.  Glasses and gloves must be used.  I suit up the kids in sunglasses that wrap around with good coverage and gloves.  I also don't have them directly handle the lye.

Chemistry is obviously covered, but the real nuts and bolts of the reactions are probably better for older age groups though.  Still, my kids get a sense of it by measuring the temperature of lye and water mixture (with a non-touching thermometer) and seeing how much heat is given of when the two combine.

Math is well covered.  I have them add up the oil amounts so we know what number we are weighing to on the scale.  They weigh the oils and take temperatures.  They help me use an online calculator to determine how much lye and water is needed for the type of oil.  There is also cutting the soap trying to get as even measurements as possible and weighing the bars once they are cut.

Social studies is loosely covered since I have explained that mixing oils and lye is the traditional way of making soap back into history.  There is also the economics of selling some of the soap online and to friends and acquaintances. 

Art is somewhat involved because one can get creative with coloring and design.  Although we prefer natural soaps we stay away from too much in the way of color.  However, it is interesting to see how appearance is affected by the ingredients.  We may experiment with color at some point providing it is from natural sources.

Reading is obvious since we need to read recipes.  Although many recipes we learn by watching videos.

This brings me to one of the best thing - research skills.  We learned a great deal from youtube and doing internet searches so the kids got a sense of how to take charge and learn something independently without only relying on formal education.  It also strikes me that youtube, on some respects, is like John Holt's vision for education where there are no schools, but people finding each other and teaching what they know.  This happens when an expert puts up a good video and people like us find them and can replicate what they are doing with no classroom required.  The information is free and available.

On a related note, we did make our own dry laundry detergent.  I am not sure what we will do next in the way of things we use.  What items have you made as a homeschool project that you were able to use?


  1. My kids decided to hold a very small "historical reenactment" of sorts -- not of a famous battle or event, but of everyday life. They chose and researched daily life in England during the Renaissance. (Obviously, they were older than your kids!)

    They took a month to amass recipes, crafts supplies and instructions, a song or two, and game ideas. They got our largest, plainest tent and came up with some ways to disguise its hearty REI look and make it look more period-appropriate. They built a sand based fire pit and brick oven in the back yard (with help from their grandpa). They invited two or three friends, and everything was in place for the weekend-long experiment.

    The girls were all amazed that they had so little time to play the games, sing the songs, or do the handicrafts. Instead, they were CONSTANTLY chopping wood, boiling water, and cooking. Food prep took a lot longer than they expected. And of course the girls were totally "cheating" since their food was from the grocery store rather than darting through a forest on-the-hoof, or growing in fields and gardens.

    It was a wonderful and educational experience, partly because it didn't turn out quite the way they hoped!

    1. That sounds like a great learning experience! I hope my kids do something like that when they are older. Without a yard we may need to take up some of the activities more piecemeal, but the main thing will be getting a sense of the work involved and the how-to. Thanks for sharing!

  2. We've been thinking about learning how to make homemade soap. Your post has inspired us to move forward and learn how to do this!