Ions Lesson for Kids

Instructor: Emily Lockhart

Emily has taught science and has a master's degree in education.

In this science lesson, we will look at ions and understand how they are important to the world around us. Let's continue reading to learn more about ions.

The Mystery of Ions

If someone stole your favorite shirt, that would be very mean. We are taught that stealing is wrong, and that person would have to be brought to justice. What if I told you, though, that all around you very small things are being stolen. We will investigate these thefts and get to the bottom of who stole what and why in the mystery of a type of atom called an ion.

Atoms are the smallest unit of matter. They can be found listed on the periodic table and are written using one or two letters. Salt, for example, is made of two different types of atoms. One sodium atom (Na) and one chlorine atom (Cl). We would write salt in chemistry terms as NaCl. NaCl is a molecule because molecules are made by combining two or more atoms together.

Periodic Table
Periodic Table

Atoms are made up of three components: electrons, neutrons and protons. The protons and neutrons are held together in a dense formation at the center of an atom called a nucleus. The electrons of an atom circle the nucleus in a series of rings.

Each atom is numbered on the periodic table. That number tells how many protons are in the nucleus. The number of electrons are the same as the number of protons, unless an electron is stolen by another atom, which is the case for ions. Ions are atoms that have a different number of electrons than protons.

Parts of an Atom
Parts Of an Atom

Electrons are the main reason atoms bond to each other to make molecules, like our NaCl example. (Bonds are what we refer to when atoms combine; we say they bond together.) Electrons swirl the nucleus in a series of rings. Each ring can hold only a certain number of electrons. If the ring is full, electrons will move into the next ring until that ring is full. Atoms are most stable when their rings are full. However, some atoms don't have enough electrons to fill all their rings.

Let's look at our table salt (NaCl) example again.

The periodic table tells us sodium (Na) has 11 electrons. These 11 electrons in the sodium atom are distributed among three rings. The two inner rings are full, but a single electron spills over into the outer ring. This ring would be full if there were 8 electrons.

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