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Going bananas

Bananas next to different types of fruit

Oh no. Another lockdown. Another week or more of juggling both work at home, parenting energetic cooped-up children and supporting their education whilst simultaneously trying not to go bananas. Thankfully, this week’s grocery delivery has provided an opportunity for a fun inquiry and some practice with scientific thinking – a bunch of green bananas.

While unpacking the groceries together, my five-year-old queried how long it would take for the bananas to be ripe enough to eat, providing a perfect entry point to developing a science experiment. Without going into much detail of what I know or searching for answers on the internet, I prompted some thought, “I’ve heard before that it helps to put bananas in bags with other things to help them ripen faster. I don’t remember exactly what works best though. Do you know anything about this?”

I watched as little eyes drew upwards as if literally seeing some former knowledge directly in the brain behind them. “I remember Nana putting the avocados and bananas together at her house one time?”

My turn – “Well, that sounds like a pretty good start. Why don’t we try many different things and see which ripens first?” And with that the children went digging about the fridge, pantry and fruit basket to find the equipment for the evolving experiment. They found an avocado, a lime, an apple, a pear, a really old banana and some aluminium foil and paper bags. Our cousins joining in via video call found oranges, flowers, rocks and carrots as their items to test. The children placed each item with a green banana in a paper bag with the date written on the outside. The cousins put their bananas and items in plastic bags and, adding another variable, filled some bags with carbon dioxide from their soda machine.

“How will we know if it is the other item in the bags helping to ripen the banana or if it is just the banana ripening in its own time?” I asked to draw out some ideas about how this experiment can have a controlled variable – a very important piece to the scientific method. The children decided to put a banana in a bag by itself but had to use a plastic bag as they had run out of paper bags (so not exactly a control this time but we did discuss that later).

Over the past week, they have observed and documented what they were seeing, coming up with their own scale of how they would measure the ripeness of a banana. The plastic bags appeared to lessen the speed of ripening, my seven-year-old noting that, “we should have put our control banana in paper as well to make sure they all get the same air.” In the end, the pear was by far the variable that seemed to produce the fasted ripening. So far.

Intrigued by the results, they are now champing at the bit for another delivery of green bananas to test their ideas even further. Unripe pears are also on the delivery wish list. And some more paper bags. 


Article author: Lena Hammond
Head trainer

Lena is an environmental educator with extensive experience in education, advocating progressive teaching approaches and facilitating hands-on STEM workshops. Inquisitive by nature, Lena believes that STEM inquiry initiates lifelong curiosity.

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