At Home Science Activities for Pre-Schoolers
The following is a VPM Blog post by Emily Hicks, a preschool teacher in Henrico, Virginia.
Science with littles is generally pretty simple, but still important. Most of the experiments or activities here deal with very basic cause and effect. It’s important to remember that while something that might not seem very exciting to us as adults, it can still be new and thrilling to a small child.
Remember to always ask them questions. Ask them what they see happening and—if they are a little older—why they think it's happening. Remind them to explore with all of their senses, keeping in mind taste is a sense we only use when it is appropriate.
Something easy that everyone can do is talk about the weather. I do this every day during circle time at work and the kids love it. You can look out a window together or even go outside. Talk about what you can see and what you can't see. Look at the sky for clouds and the sun. If there are clouds, ask them what they think the clouds look like. Look at the trees to see if the wind is blowing, feel outside to see if it feels hot or cold.
Cloud in a Jar
Fill a jar about 3⁄4 with water and then cover the top with shaving cream. Mix another small cup of water with blue food coloring and use a dropper to drop the blue water on top of the shaving cream. Wait a minute or two and the blue water should “rain” down through the cloud and into the clear water below.
If you have any seeds around the house, now is a great time to get some plants started inside. I am planning on starting an herb garden myself, but tomatoes are also great plants to start inside. When I taught 4-year-olds, we planted cherry tomatoes every year. Each child planted seeds in their own little cup. We watered them and tracked their progress, and once they were a couple inches tall, we relocated them to larger pots on the playground. The kids loved getting to be so hands-on with the whole process, and once the tomatoes started growing they got to eat them right off the vine!
Nature Hunt in the Backyard
Come up with a list of things you might find in your yard or, better yet, make a bingo board! Go on a hunt through your yard to see how many things you can find and let your child cross them off the list or mark them on the bingo board.
If you have any tubes in your house - paper towel tubes, large cardboard or plastic tubing, pringles cans, poster tubes, etc., they can be used as a wonderful way to explore gravity. Smaller tubes like paper towel or toilet paper tubes can be taped to the wall in different configurations for dropping small balls and pom poms. Larger tubes can be set up on elevated surfaces like tables or couches and used as ramps for cars.
Freeze small toys like animals, pompoms, and cars in a block of ice. Feel free to add some food coloring to the ice to make it a little more exciting. Give your kiddos the ice along with spoons or basters. Then pour small amounts of warm water on the ice to free the toys.
Make Your Own Snow
You can make cool, moldable snow using white hair conditioner and baking soda.
Mix about 1⁄2 cup conditioner with 3 cups of baking soda. If it's still sticky, add a bit more baking soda. If it's too crumbly, add a dab of conditioner.
Patterns with Ice Trays
Ice trays are a great way to introduce patterns to small children. Use small objects like buttons or marbles, whatever you have, and start a simple ABAB pattern by putting alternating colors in each slot of the ice tray. Help your child to complete the pattern. Once they get a hang of ABAB patterns you can try trickier ones like AAB or ABC. Putting one item in each slot also helps your child practice one-to-one correspondence.
Baking Soda and Vinegar
Kids could entertain themselves for hours combining baking soda and vinegar. There are lots of variations you can try as well. Here are some of my favorites:
- Freeze baking soda mixed with a little water to make baking soda ice cubes. Then melt them by either spooning vinegar on, or squirting it on with whatever you have available – turkey baster, dropper, even those little bulbs you use to clean out baby ears.
- Fill an empty balloon with baking soda and pour some vinegar in a plastic bottle. Quickly attach the balloon to the top of the bottle, releasing the baking soda into the vinegar, and watch the balloon fill with gas.
- There is always the classic volcano, of course. Build your volcano from clay and fill it with baking soda and vinegar. Then watch it “erupt.”
Golf Tee Hammering
If you have any golf tees around, they are perfect for kids to practice hammering. We hammered ours into styrofoam, but you can do the same activity with other materials as well: gardening foam, pumpkins, cardboard boxes, etc. Get creative! You could have your child hammer the tees into different materials and discuss the differences between them as well.
Set up a container of water and set aside a series of objects and make predictions about what will sink and what will float.
Fill a clear plastic bottle with pom poms or rice and something metal, like jingle bells or paper clips. Close the bottle and use magnets on the outside to find the metal objects and move them around the bottle. Go on a hunt for things that are magnetic. Take a magnet and try it on different surfaces around the house to see what is magnetic and what isn't.
Have your kids use straws to blow different objects across a finish line. Try flat paper and then crumpled up paper and discuss the difference. You can also try things like feathers, pom poms, or anything else lightweight that you have around the house.
Assign your child a shape, and have them find as many items as they can around the house that are that shape. Think about how many shapes we see around the house every day that we don't even think about. The top of a glass is a circle, the television is a rectangle. What else can you find?
Block Shape Matching
This is something I did in the classroom this year that the kids loved. You'll need paper, markers, and colored blocks. I used foam blocks, but if you have wooden ones, those will work just as well. Pick out some blocks of different shapes and colors. Place them on the paper and trace them using a marker the same color as the block. Have your child match the correct shape and color block to each outline.
We do yoga at least once a week in our classes. If you don't know any simple yoga poses, you can always look up kid yoga videos on YouTube, or look up other easy poses online. I often take whatever theme we're learning about, space for example, and then look up “space theme yoga” or “space yoga poses” on Google.