Hands On Learning: Atoms Molecules and Compounds

Part of our chemistry study this year entails learning about atoms, molecules and compounds. These were somewhat difficult concepts for my third grader to digest so I found a hands on way to help her understand these concepts.

Hands On Learning: Atoms Molecules & Compounds from Starts At Eight

Atoms Molecules and Compounds


  • atom – the smallest particle of an element that still keeps the properties of that element
  • molecule – two or more atoms combined
  • compound – contains at least two different elements combined

All compounds are molecules, but not all molecules are compounds. This happens because some molecules have two atoms of the same element like H2 (this is two hydrogen atoms combined).  Because this is two atoms combined it is a molecule, but because it is two of the same type of atoms (hydrogen) it is not a compound. To create a compound you can have two elements like hydrogen and oxygen combine. This creates H2O and is both a molecule (two atoms combined) and a compound because there are two different types of atoms.

Hands On Atoms Molecules and Compounds

After going through the definitions and talking about this concept, I could see that we still were not understanding. To help go through the process again we created a notebook page to write definitions and draw pictures to help us sort it out.

Atoms Molecules & Compounds Notebook Page from Starts At Eight

First we wrote a flow chart in words.

Atom -> two or more atoms is a molecule -> at least two elements combined is a compound = All compounds are molecules BUT not all molecules are compounds.

This spurred me to grab some Cuisenaire Rods to get a visual of how these terms relate to one another. If you don’t have Cuisenaire Rods you can use Legos, blocks, crayons, play dough, etc. Or, to make things easier I created a printable of these so you can print them (sturdier if on card stock or laminated) for use in your homeschool.

Printable Atoms Molecules and Compounds

You can print this out to create your own hands on learning lesson of atoms molecules & compounds. Simply right click and “save as”.

Printable Atoms Molecules & Compounds from Starts At Eight
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