Preschool science for curious little minds…
I’ve often been asked for science activities and resources for preschool kids. Finally, I’ve decided to pool some of our favorite activities and resources together for parents of preschool and kindergarten age kids.
Kat and I first began our adventures in learning together when she was 3 years old. This gave me a wonderful opportunity to really show her the many things that I love about the world. What I didn’t expect was that I too, would begin to learn more than I ever thought possible, and that this would brighten my life in so many ways!
The wonderful thing about young kids is that everything is new and exciting! Kids want to know more about the world and are excited to be active participants in it. They want to stick their feet in mud puddles and squish their toes around in it. They want to pick up the ladybug crawling on the ground and take a closer look. Kids are natural explorers and they do a great job of finding things to be interested in (even if it’s something they’re not supposed to be getting into!). The wonderful thing about this is that every time you go outside, you’re presented with a wonderful opportunity to teach your kids about the world and how to care for it.
Within this post, you will find a sampling of some of our favorite activities pertaining to Life Science, Chemistry and Math. We did all of these when Kat was around 4 or 5 years old. At the end of this post, I will list a few of my favorite resources that I’ve used for science, school activities, and reading. Learning with your kids can be so incredibly rewarding and if you’re having fun, your kids will have fun too!
Here are some things that I bought for Kat when she was younger, and I highly recommend these for kids of any age!
Tools for Discovery!
Microscope – Kids love building things with blocks, and in my experience, love learning that WE are made of building blocks too! Cells are like legos, grouping together, building, growing, clustering, until finally, they make something like your heart, your eyes, even your hands and feet! Every living thing is made up of cells, but don’t take my word for it – go out on your own and see what you can find! What does it look like on the inside?
Magnifying Glass – This is something that is far more portable, take it with you when you go on walks with your kids. You can get a closer look at pollen, ladybugs, leaves, all sorts of things!
Clipboard – I often brought a clipboard with some white paper and a pencil on our walks. Kat could sit down and draw anything she liked. If she saw a bird or a pretty flower, we could sit down and draw it. Even if those drawings are little scribbles, your kids are paying attention to the world around them, and taking in small details that they may not have noticed before.
Safety Goggles and Latex Gloves – With any experiments you’re likely to do, you’ll need to have some safety equipment. It’s never too early (or too late!) to start thinking about safety; even baking soda and vinegar experiments can hurt if the materials get into your eyes. Start your experiments with an attitude of keeping safety first!
Ingredients – To this day, I always have baking soda, vinegar, food coloring and cornstarch in my house. These things are so much fun to play with, and there are so many ways that you can experiment with them! With these ingredients, you can make volcanoes and oobleck, and you can conduct fun and safe experiments! What about causing a volcano under a layer of oil, would that work? What happens if you took iron filings and added some to your oobleck? Could you make it move with magnets? There are so many great things to try with just these staple ingredients, and the mess is easy to clean up too!
Kat grew up with a strong affection towards animals, always wanting to look at them and play with them. We began watching a lot of nature documentaries narrated by David Attenborough, whom we still watch to this day. Because she loved animals, I thought it would be fun to learn more about them and their habitats. This led us to learn a lot about our animal friends, the areas they inhabit, and instilled a very strong desire to protect the world that we all live in.
THE HABITAT GAME
One pack of index cards
Markers in assorted colors
A room with four walls
1. Make 4 habitat cards: Forest, Pond, Ocean, Desert.
2. Think of as many animals as you can! Write them all down on separate index cards.
3. Tape your habitat cards on different areas of your room (one on each wall).
4. This is the fun part – take turns drawing animal cards! When you pick one, read the name of the card aloud, then act like the animal on your way to its proper habitat. Tape the animal card to the appropriate wall. You may find yourself running on all fours or flapping your wings like a bird. Make animal noises and be silly!
As your kids get acquainted with the animals and their habitats, make it more challenging! Add more animals and habitats, or make them more specific (fresh water/salt water, jungle/forest, arctic/tundra). While you’re playing, discuss what it is about the animals that make them perfectly suited to their habitats. Maybe they have excellent camouflage, or they’re nocturnal hunters, or they eat a lot of fruit which is plentiful in a jungle. Mix it up and have fun!
Another great way to learn about habitats is to paint them! Kat loves animals and she loves painting, so this incorporated things that she really likes into her school. You can purchase inexpensive acrylic (or tempera, which is washable) paints at most hobby stores. Canvases and brushes can be found cheaply at art supply stores, or you can get a piece of poster board and use that.
Kat and I painted each habitat in one corner of the canvas. On a separate piece of paper, we tried to draw different animals that might live in each habitat. Then we colored those and glued them on to our painting.
As you discuss different animals and their habitats, you might want to take a look at the stuffed animals that are already in your home! What might their habitats be? Do they have any camouflage? What do they eat? One of Kat’s favorite activities that we did when learning about animal diets was grouping her toys according to what they ate.
We grabbed 2 poster boards and painted a giant herbivore landscape on one, and a carnivore landscape on the other. When we were finished, we put each board on opposite sides of the room. Then we grouped Kat’s stuffed animals according to what they ate and put them near their signs.
Of course, the best way to learn about animals, camouflage, life cycles, and diets, is to observe them in their natural habitats! You can do this at zoos, at the park, or even in your own back yard! Our favorite way to do this is by growing a garden. With a garden, your child can get their hands dirty, watch excitedly as seedlings sprout from the ground, and even find little insects enjoying a meal.
Perhaps if you do find a lot of little munchers, you can then add more insects to your garden by purchasing a container of lady bugs or praying mantis oothecas (egg sacs). Your child will be enthralled by the lady bugs (let your child pick them up and play with them, it’s a wonderful sight to see your kid covered in lady bugs!) and will be really excited to see the tiny praying mantis nymphs emerge from the egg sac. These beneficial insects will act as a pest control in your garden, munching on the munchers!
Kids love chemical reactions. With the fizzing, bubbling, and spilling that often accompanies them, they’re a big hit for kids and adults alike! The nice thing about chemical reactions, is that not only do you get to see the results of chemistry happening right in front of you, but you can really participate in the scientific method by changing measurements and materials to actively experiment!
As you get into your explorations in chemistry, it’s a good idea to talk for a minute about atoms. Do you remember how we talked about cells being the building blocks of living things? Atoms are the building blocks of cells – atoms are the building blocks of everything! A good way to talk about atoms, is to talk about the 3 states of matter.
Solid: Take both of your hands and clasp them together, interlocking your fingers, and holding them as tightly as you can! See how your fingers can’t really move? That’s how the atoms are structured in a solid (generally speaking). They’re locked in!
Liquid: Okay, now take your fingers and relax them a little. Wiggle them around a bit. See, now the atoms are relaxed, they’re just hanging out, being all groovy. This is (generally speaking) how atoms are structured within a liquid.
Gas: Okay, step away from each other for a minute. Now throw your hands and fists around as fast as you can! Make loud pew! pew! pew! noises as you do it! Your atom hands are flying around at incredible speeds, they can hardly contain themselves! This is (generally speaking) how atoms are set up in a gas.
Now would be a good time to take a moment and think of things that represent each phase of matter. What are some things that you can think of that are solids? What are some liquids that you know of? What are some examples of gasses? Take a piece of paper and divide it into 3 sections. Label the sections as Solid, Liquid, and Gas. Draw pictures of the examples you’ve thought of, along with what the atoms might look like inside of them.
Now that you’ve got some basic understanding of atomic structures, it’s time to start playing! Get your baking soda, food coloring, and your vinegar together. Talk about how the atoms are structured in the baking soda and in the vinegar (use your hands!). As you combine the two materials together, what happens? What’s happening to the atoms within them? They’re bumping into each other, faster, faster, and then they explode out as a carbon dioxide gas! Look at that!
A great variation of this chemical reaction is the elephant toothpaste demonstration from Science Bob. This one uses hydrogen peroxide and yeast. The reaction that results not only releases Oxygen, but also creates a small exothermic reaction, making your results warm to the touch!
Another really fun demonstration to do is the Density Column. Atoms are clustered together in various ways, and the density of an object simply relates to how tightly packed together those atoms are. Some liquids have a tighter structure than others and you can demonstrate this by making a rainbow of fluids right in your kitchen!
DENSITY RAINBOW OF SCIENCE!
1/4 cup dark liquid corn syrup, honey, or boiled sugar water*
1/4 cup liquid dish soap
1/4 cup water
1/4 cup vegetable oil
1/4 cup rubbing alcohol
Tall 12 oz clear glass cup
2 other cups for mixing
* We didn’t have corn syrup or honey on hand. Instead, we made a sugar water mixture by bringing 1/2 cup of water to a boil and slowly dissolving 1 1/2 cups of sugar, stirring constantly. We let it cool to a warm temperature, and used an extra cup to mix in some food coloring.
1. Put on your safety goggles and latex gloves!
2. Pour water and rubbing alcohol into your two extra cups. Using different colors, mix in a few drops of food coloring into each liquid.
3. Add the syrup/honey to the 12 oz. glass.
4. Slowly pour dish soap over the syrup. I recommend slightly tilting the glass and pouring down the side. I did this for every step. You do not want the liquids to mix during this demonstration!
5. Slowly pour water over the soap.
6. Slowly pour your vegetable oil over the water.
7. Slowly pour the rubbing alcohol over the vegetable oil.
Steve Spangler has an awesome variation of the density column where he floats objects of various weights on the different layers in the column! Kat and I will be trying that out the next time we do this, it should be really fun!
(A note on chemicals: Chemistry is really fun to play with, but stick with the safe stuff and know what you’re doing. NEVER COMBINE HOUSEHOLD CHEMICALS WITHOUT MAKING SURE THAT IT IS SAFE TO DO SO. Baking soda and vinegar, and yeast and hydrogen peroxide are perfectly safe to use with your kids, just make sure they are wearing protection!)
Math concepts are really fun to use with your kids. They really love experiencing things outside, so that’s where I try to take our math as often as possible. We can use math to measure how tall we are, how long our walking strides are, or how far we can throw something! You can measure things with rulers, spoons, leaves, toothpicks, whatever! You can also look around and see what shapes you can find. When your preschooler is learning about shapes and sizes, try taking them outside and looking for shapes in the neighborhood!
Once you look around your neighborhood, try taking them on a shape safari! I used to take Kat on the bus and ride around town, looking for various shapes in buildings, signs, gardens.. we’d look for them everywhere. Grab a clipboard, a pen and paper, and make a checklist of all the shapes you want to look for. Then go find them and check them off! When you’re done with that, try making various buildings and houses out of shapes by drawing them on your paper. Which ones would be the most sturdy? Which one would you like to live in?
While you’re out and about in your neighborhood, take a good look at the houses around you and how the streets intersect. There sure are a lot of houses in your neighborhood, aren’t there? What are some of your favorite things about where you live? Is there a park nearby? Is there a pool or a lake for swimming? Do you have a lot of trees in your neighborhood? If you and your child could plan a small neighborhood for their toys, how would you do it?
A TOWN FOR TOY ANIMALS!
Paint (acrylic or tempera)
Cardboard or thick cardstock
Box Cutter (if using cardboard)
Hot Glue Gun (for the grown ups!)
Decorative craft supplies
1. Plan out your neighborhood for your child’s toys. How big do the houses need to be for their toys to fit in them? If you make really big houses, how many can you fit on your block? Do you want to make a space for a park? How big will that be? Use your ruler to demonstrate how big everything will be and what that will look like on your board.
2. Use your ruler to mark out your sections for your houses and roads.
3. Paint! Paint grassy areas green, sandy areas brown, and your roads black with the appropriate road markings for your area.
4. Build your houses! Measure and mark out where you want to cut your cardboard. After you cut your sections, then use the hot glue gun to glue the pieces together. Once you have your houses built, let your child paint them.
5. Set up your neighborhood! You can get as creative as you’d like here. Kat and I made a working park with swings and a slide, and a little grassy hill.We collected sand and gravel from outside and used it to make a sand lot at the park! Here are some more detailed instructions on how we made our town.
When you’re finished setting up your neighborhood, play in it! Get your kids’ toys and “live” in the houses for a while. Go on a walk to the park in your new neighborhood, or go next door to meet the animals who live across the street! You and your kids can feel a well-deserved sense of pride for your beautiful little town that you made with math, art, and imagination.
LINKS AND RESOURCES
Spending time with my young and inquisitive preschooler has given me a unique opportunity to try teaching her in a way that was really comfortable; by just experiencing the world and seeing where we wanted to learn more. I also found a lot of inspiration from other places. I’d like to share a few of them below, so that you can use them for your own inspiration with your kids!
Education.com – This was, and still is, a wonderful site full of fantastic activities and ideas for young kids! I found so many things to do here! There are ideas for math games, science games, and reading activities. Some of their activities include making your own puppets or mosaic art, making your own play-doh and paints! You can sort by grade level and subject, to tailor your results.
Science Bob – This guy is awesome. He’s a public access science personality, bringing science to kids and parents and making it fun along the way! My daughter loves watching his videos and loves to pick science projects from his site. He is an overall great resource for parents with young scientists.
Momma Owl’s Lab – This is a mom who teaches her young kids at home and does a wonderful job of it! She has a ton of really cute and really fun preschool science ideas.
Chemistry For Kids – This site is great at explaining chemistry concepts in a way that is really easy to understand. It may not be for the preschoolers, but it is an invaluable resource for parents who would like to explain things to preschoolers! There is also an Earth Science, Biology, Physics, and an Astronomy variant of this site, make sure to look to the bottom of the page for those links!
Starfall.com – This site was AWESOME for when Kat was learning how to read. She loved their cute videos and songs, and it was incredibly helpful for when we were learning all those reading concepts when she was younger! She’s an avid reader now, and this was a big help for us.
DIY.org – This site wasn’t around when Kat was younger, but if it was, we would have used it all the time! Kat loves getting ideas of projects and activities from here. This is a build/make/grow website designed for kids, with projects made and shared by kids! Preschoolers might be a bit young to use the site, but you can get a lot of great ideas from kids who are on it.
Learning with your kids is so much fun and so incredibly rewarding! Kat and I have had a wonderful time as we learn and grow together. I have found that being an active participant in the world with my daughter has brightened both our lives in ways we couldn’t have possibly imagined. So go learn something with your kids, get outside, get dirty, and most of all, HAVE FUN!