Combustion Lesson for Kids

Instructor: Michelle Vannoy
Combustion is a common type of chemical reaction - so common, in fact, that if you've ever lit a match or viewed fireworks, you've seen it in action. In this lesson, we'll discuss what is needed for combustion to take place and what is formed by the combustion reaction.

The Fourth of July: Lots of Combustion

Fourth of July is a wonderful holiday. Maybe you have family over and grill out. Maybe you go to the lake or a special vacation spot. One thing almost everybody does on Fourth of July is set of fireworks or go to a fireworks display. Many of us love the beautiful colors and the loud, thunderous booms. My favorite is when they are synchronized to music and they explode in shapes like stars or the American Flag. It is one of my favorite holidays!

Did you know that many of the things we see or do on Fourth of July involve combustion reactions? From grilling food, roasting marshmallows and writing your name with a sparkler to setting off bottle rockets and roman candles or watching huge firework displays, all of these things involve combustion reactions.

Combustion reactions take place during a firework explosion.

What is Combustion?

Combustion is simply the process of burning something. Anytime we burn anything, combustion is taking place. Combustion always gives off heat and light. Think about sitting by the bonfire after dark. The fire gives off heat and light. What about the fireworks? There is definitely light there - they light up the whole sky. If you were close enough to the spot that the fireworks were lit, you would feel heat as well.

In order to have a combustion reaction, you need the combination of a flammable substance, something to cause a spark to light it, and oxygen. Flammable simply means a substance that can catch fire, such as wood, paper, cloth or lots of other things. These substances are all organic, which means they're made of carbon, and so the combustion reaction leaves behind carbon dioxide and water.

What happens to a fire if there is no oxygen present? It will go out. You can test this with your parents' help by lighting a candle. After the candle is lit, place a mason jar over the candle. As soon as the oxygen in the jar is used up, the candle will go out. If you put your finger on the inside of the jar, you will feel water that was left behind from the combustion reaction.

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