Look at a brick building up close and you can see all the single bricks that make it up.  Look at something built out of LEGOs even closer and you can see all the small plastic bricks that make it up.  Now look at your skin up close.  See anything?  You might see cracks or tiny hairs or freckles . . . but where are your building blocks?  Do you even have any?  You may be more like a LEGO set than you think.

What do you think of when I say the word stuff?  Clothes?  Toys?  Books?  Cars?  Feathers?  Stuff is kind of a word that means everything, right?  Matter is another way of saying stuff.  It's what everything in the universe is made out of.  It's not the same as the other way to use "matter," as in "that does not mean anything."  Because everything matters!  Or, everything has matter.  If you can see it, smell it, touch it, hear it, or even taste it, then it is made of matter.  You don't need to test this.  No need licking everything to prove that it's made of matter.

You don't have to lick everything, but you do have to lick ice cream.

Really, everything?  Yes, everything.  What about smells?  You cannot see a smell, you cannot hold it.  How can that be stuff?  I am so glad you asked.  Everything is made of matter, but they also come in all different sizes.  Mass means how much matter is inside of something.  You could think of this as the number of LEGO bricks in one building.  Some things have space between their stuff but in other stuff, the things are packed together.  An elephant has a lot of mass.  A pyramid has even more.  One LEGO brick does not have much mass at all.  Neither does one of your fingernails.  Everything that has matter is made of mass.  Yes, even that smell.  When you smell it, it goes inside your nose.  Sorry if that grosses you out.

Just think what this guy can smell with HIS nose.
Photo by Doug Stremel

Back to staring at your skin.  If everything is matter and all of it is made of mass, then what is matter made of?  Atoms are the building blocks that make up everything in the universe.  The reason you cannot see your building blocks is because they are very small.  How small?  Well, if you stacked a million of them on top of each other -- 1,000,000 -- they would only be as wide as one of your hairs!  And you thought it was easy to lose LEGOs . . .

This may not be a million LEGOs, but it's close.

You are not so different from a LEGO set as you might think.  It has matter, or stuff, just like you do.  It also has mass, or an amount of matter in a space, just like you do.  If you break these down into their smallest parts, then you can see that everything is made of atoms, the building blocks of our universe.  It's a good thing we cannot see them.  What if somebody came over and took one of your building blocks from the bottom of your foot and your body fell over like a LEGO set?


Chem 4 Kids.  "Matter is the Stuff Around You"  chem4kids.com, 2009. <http://www.chem4kids.com/files/matter_intro.html>

Discovery Kids.  "Can We See Atoms?"  Discovery Kids, 2010.  <http://discoverykids.com/articles/can-we-see-atoms/>