Dear Teacher: Here are a few science activities that support units of study you are probably promoting. Since core science ideas begin early in a child’s school life, the experiments and activities we’ve identified will begin to develop a base of knowledge for children about forces of motion (pushes and pulls), sound and vibrations, and states of matter (solid, liquids, and gases). We’ve prepared a note for parents that you can share that invites them to engage their children in science learning. Enjoy!
Dear Parents: You play a critical role in encouraging and supporting your child’s early interest in science. There’s no better place than a child’s home to begin developing a curiosity about science. Here are a few fun activities that you can do with your child at home. You’ll find that these will promote their creativity, their critical thinking, and their problem-solving skills as they do science experiments and talk about them with you. A few books have been added to support additional science reading time you might want to do with your children. Enjoy!
As we spend more time indoors, many of us are struggling to find ways to engage our young learners. Every home has different learning tools and in–home environments. This makes teaching science at home a challenge and an issue of equity, but not one that can’t be overcome. To begin, we have to think about our kitchens, bedrooms, and other home living spaces as our personal classrooms. Inside your home are common objects that can provide big lessons in science. Here are a few ideas to consider:
Lesson 1. Sound is Everywhere
Here’s What You Need:
- A pencil or pen
- One tube from a cardboard paper towel or toilet paper tube
- A piece of waxed paper
- A rubber band
- A bowl
Drumming your fingers on a table produces a rhythmic pound. Closing the front door might create a creak, or a slam noise, depending on the force of the push. Turning on the television or playing a song on a smart phone generates the sound of voices with various tones and amplitudes. Sound is all around us, inside our homes.
To explore sounds in a more focused, instructive way, ask your child to make a list of all the ways he or she can create sound during the day. She might remember that her shoes made a clapping noise as they struck the wood floor. Or he might recall the sound of a cup being placed on a table, or the rap of his sister’s knock on the bathroom door.
Ask them, how do you think these sounds are made?
Yes, they are the result of vibrations.
To reiterate and make this idea more tangible, help your child make instruments from materials at home. An easy one to make is the good ole kazoo. All it takes is the cardboard tube that’s left over from a used-up roll of toilet paper or paper towels, a piece of wax paper, a rubber band, and a bowl. The assembly instructions are as follows:
- Use the bottom of a bowl to trace a circle on the wax paper. The circle should be at least double the size of the opening of the cardboard tube. Cut out the wax paper circle.
- Place the wax paper over one end of the cardboard tube and secure with a rubber band. You’ve made a kazoo! See Figure 1.
- Your child might even want to decorate the tube with pictures of ways sound is created (hands clapping, people singing, piano keys pushed).
- Now have your child talk or sing into the open end of the kazoo.
Promote thinking by modeling how to ask questions about the kazoo that relate to sound. You might start with questions like these:
What do you notice about the wax paper when you talk into the kazoo? Or How is the sound of talking through the kazoo different than the sound of talking without the kazoo?
Ask the child what questions she has about the kazoo. You might hear some of these:
Would the sound be different if the tube was longer? How does the sound of my voice get to the wax paper?
You don’t have to have all the answers. At this point, you are facilitating scientific thinking rooted in the generation of questions. Remind the child that scientists answer their questions by finding ways to explore.
Extensions that might help deepen understanding or extend the learning could include ‘playing’ telephone with two paper cups connected by a string that is threaded through the bottom of the cups and knotted to secure the string inside each cup. Metal cans can be used, too, but these are a little harder to poke a hole through. For this extension, the child holds one cup to her ear while another person talks into the other cup.
Again, ask the child to think of questions related to sound.
You might start with how does sound get from my mouth to your ear? Other questions might include Does the length or thickness of the string make a difference in the sound? Does the size or material of the cup make a difference in the sound?
Once again, you can explore answering these questions by trying out different materials if you have them.
Lesson 2. Physics for Kids
Here’s What You Need:
- A toy car
- A waded-up piece of paper
- Paper and crayons or markers to use for drawing and writing
One of the most feared concepts of science is physics. Many people have stories of the dreaded moment they were confronted with a physics textbook. However, when physics concepts become a part of early learning, the barriers built up in our heads can be naturally broken down. Consider this: pushing a toy car across the kitchen floor or tossing a ball to a waiting puppy on the other side of the room both involve physics.
- Have the child push a car or any object across the floor.
- Ask him what he is doing. He might say, I’m pushing my car. Now have the child pull the car towards himself and again ask, What are you doing? He’s pulling.
- Tell him that a force is a push or pull. In this case, he is exerting the force on the car, but some forces are caused by other objects.
- To go a little further with this concept, play catch with a wad of paper and discuss the arc of the wadded paper.
What path does the paper take? Why does it fall after it reaches the top of its path?
Again, the idea is not to have all the answers, but to instead encourage children to think about areas they are curious about.
- You might try to create different paths with your wads of paper—higher arcs with shorter ranges and lower arcs with longer ranges.
- Have the learner draw the different paths of the wads of paper. You could even introduce the idea of a force pulling the wads of paper back to earth in opposition to the force of the toss.
- Oftentimes scientists use arrows to label their forces. Model the use of arrows in the drawings
To extend the concept a little further, reveal that the force that makes the paper fall back to the ground is called gravity. Have the child label the forces on the drawing—the force of the toss and the force of gravity.
- The child could even do a few jumps upward or even a couple of jumping jacks, as you ask the question how does your body move?
- Again, you can connect the physics term gravity to the concept of a force that pulls you back to earth after you jump upward.
- Have the learner draw, talk, and write about gravity using sentence frames to build physics academic language. Here are a few we like:
- I learned that __________.
- When I tossed the paper up __________.
- Gravity makes objects on earth ___________.
- Gravity is ____________.
- When I jump up, _________.
Lesson 3. Phase Changes Happen in Your Kitchen
Here’s What You Need:
- A napkin or paper towel
- Access to an ice cube
- Paper and crayons or markers to use for drawing and writing
- A pot that can hold water for boiling
Most people don’t think about science when they reach for an ice cube from the freezer or when they turn the tap on to wash their hands. But when you consider the fact that ice cubes and tap water are both the same compound—that’s a chemical term that indicates that water is made of elements—you might wonder about how the ice and water are different, yet still the same.
Water and ice are both made up of the same elements, hydrogen and oxygen- H2O as we all know it. How can the same compound seem so different?
That’s a question that can be investigated in the kitchen.
- Set an ice cube out on a piece of paper and observe.
- Make note of the changes as time goes on.
- You might even have the child draw a sketch of the changes every two minutes over the course of 10 minutes. Observations are a key part of collecting data.
- Ask, What’s happening to the ice cube? Why is the ice cube changing?
- If you happen to have a thermometer, you could even take the air temperature in the room as well as in the freezer to introduce the concept of temperature and changes in the ice cube.
- Ask the child to share ideas about the changing ice cube using these sentence starters:
- When the ice cube sits out on the paper, it ____________.
- At first the ice cube was ____________, but now it is ________________.
- The changes I saw were __________________.
- As the ice cube warms, it __________.
To extend the learning, slowly heat a pot of water on the stove and have the learner, under supervision, observe the changes. He might notice that the water is rumbling (boiling) as the water level is getting lower. This is the start to understanding evaporation.
To integrate poetry into science learning, consider the first two verses of Robert Louis Stevenson’s Picture-books in Winter
Summer fading, winter comes–
Frosty mornings, tingling thumbs,
Window robins, winter rooks,
And the picture storybooks.
Water now is turned to stone
Nurse and I can walk upon;
Still we find the flowing brooks
In the picture storybooks.
Have the child identify ideas related to how water changes with temperature. He might pick out these words or phrases frosty, water now turned to stone, flowing brooks.
The strategy RAFT is an engaging way to have students write about science. RAFT is an acronym that stands for Role, Audience, Format, and Topic. When children write a RAFT, they are given a role, and they write to an audience. Using a format, the writer addresses a given topic. Try out one of these RAFTs (see Figure 3).
T-how my ice cube changes in my glass of water
R-water in a puddle
T-make me disappear
Science is All Around Us
Science is all around us. It’s in the simple actions of getting up out of a chair as we exert a force to oppose gravity. It’s in our noticing the pot of water making our windows misty as we heat the water for our spaghetti dinner. It’s the sound we hear as we run our wet finger around the rim of a glass of water or blow across a soda bottle for fun to make a whistle. Science is the explanation of the phenomena that fills our lives. It can be learned by simply noticing, questioning, exploring, and conveying ideas. Science learning is a natural fit for the exploration that young children are inclined to do anyway. So, tap into the pushing of toys across the rug, the tossing of paper into the trashcan, and make these every day moments learning experiences to build upon.
Get additional ideas from:
Grant, M., Fisher, D., Lapp, D. (2015). Reading and writing in science: Tools to develop disciplinary literacy. 2nd.Ed. Thousand Oaks, CA: Corwin.
Bradley, K. B. (2009). Forces Make Things Move. New York: Harper Collins.
Coan, S. (2014). How Sound Moves. Huntington Beach, CA: Teacher Created Materials.
NASA Science, Space Place. What is Gravity? Retrieved from: https://spaceplace.nasa.gov/what-is-gravity/en/
National Geographic Kids. The Water Cycle. Retrieved from: https://www.natgeokids.com/ie/discover/science/nature/water-cycle/
Pattison, D, (2016). Nefertiti, the Spidernaut: The Jumping Spider Who Learned to Hunt in Space. Little Rock, Arkansas: Mims House.
Winterberg, J. (2015). Sound Waves and Communication. Huntington Beach, CA: Teacher Created Materials.