Science in the Early Childhood Classroom
- Integration with other subjects
- Physical skills
- Observational or sense words
- Concepts and Generalizations for early science curriculum
- Activities by topics
Students in the early childhood classroom vary greatly in their abilities to sense and describe objects. They also have a great variance in their development of thought processes and the types of operations they are able to perform, both physical and mental. Identifying objects, properties of those objects, sorting, grouping and ordering objects by single or multiple properties.
Piaget demonstrated children need hands-on experiences just beyond their present cognitive level for them to learn to perform logical operations. Repetition must also be provided to maintain and reinforce acquired physical skills and mental operations. Through discussion, language can be developed along with vocabulary, reading readiness, socialization, and dispositions that can lead to future successes.
As students explore and create answers to their problems we need to look at their solutions not as correct or incorrect, but on a continuum from where students are as they start their activity, to where they might progress today within a continuum toward science literacy. This creates a developmental approach of better answers based on what students gain from their activity. If we take this approach students will not necessarily give right or wrong answers, but better answers depending on their level. A child's explanation of gravity will not be as detailed as a middle school student, or a middle school student as detailed as a high school student, or a college student as detailed as a physicist. That does not make any of them right or wrong nor does it put any of them at a disadvantage, as each has probably developed a concept of gravity that is sufficient to meet their needs at their particular level.
The idea of learning as developmental puts extra importance on beginning the development of processes skills at an early age since development takes time. The idea of science as labeling activities for memorizing vocabulary and definitions has not served us well. It is imperative children in a technological society are provided with learning experiences that allow them to conceptualize powerful scientific concepts and develop skills to use the scientific processes in their practice of science. These abilities must be facilitated in a positive risk free environment so students develop positive attitudes toward science and dispositions scientist use in their practice to inquire and investigate in a variety of perspectives.
Hands-on science for younger children helps them perform at their ability level and creates enjoyment from their being "in charge" and the progress they experience. As children develop more positive attitudes and interests in science, their achievement, understanding, and appreciation of their environment increases. Students learn how to use science to understand and explain the world, to solve problems in their everyday lives and develop attitudes that are necessary to recognize science as a necessary tool to maintain a quality life for all on Earth.
For the young child it is not what the teacher "knows" that is important but what and how the teacher provides experiences for them to discover and learn. Not by giving answers, but by asking questions, learning is conveyed as a process of thinking, hypothesizing, and experimenting in an active creative manner that is exciting, challenging, and fun.
Children learn by modeling behaviors of others. Teachers who model learning along with their students teach the processes and dispositions that will be the foundation for them to solve real world problems for a lifetime of learning and exploration of the world.
Integration of science with other subjects:
When students interact with objects or participate in hands-on activities we often neglect to consider the physical actions they perform and the importance of those actions for developing not only fine motor skills, but problem solving, logic, and creativity. Here are actions that students learn and practice with such interactions:
To Slide, Roll, Jump, Skip, Walk, Run, Hop, Throw, Splash, Spill, Smash, Mash, Throw, Press, Scratch, Pluck, Shout, Blow
To Slide, Roll, Lift, Splash, Spill, Squeeze, Smash, Mash, Suck
To Hold, Drop, Stop, Remain Still
Balance with push and pull together
To Support, Carry, Pour, Wet, Water, Fill, Empty, Stir, Mix, Soak, Rip, Open, Dig, Shake
Sensing beyond touch
Smell, Listen, Taste, Look, and Talk
Talk to shout, cry, giggle, whine, whisper, hiccup
When students sort and create classes they are not only doing science, but they are preparing for math as the first step in quantifying something is to select a group or class to count. When groups are made, then question related to science and math can be asked questions or given tasks such as:
- How many are in each group?
- How many groups do they have?
- Which has more?
- Which has less?
- Do any have the same?
- Ask them to put them in order from more to less and less to more.
- Ask if there is a middle? Where is it? How do you know?
- Have them match groups to see what has more or less.
- Have them line up objects in groups and see if they are odd or even.
- When the students count the number of objects ask them to look for patterns.
- See if they can see patterns of two so they can start counting at two instead of one. Then three, four
- Compare the patterns with dots on dot plates.
- Have them line up the objects and make real life graphs.
- Ask how that helps to see if there are more or less.
Create word cards for names of objects and properties of the objects. Have students use the property cards for different objects so that they can see that different objects can have the same properties.
Use yarn to make circles for students to sort objects by properties by putting the objects into yarn circles that represent certain properties (Venn diagrams).
Use the cards and have students put them in order to make sentences about what they know.
Have students draw pictures and use the words to label the properties of different objects. Use the pages to make a dictionary of objects and their properties or characteristics.
Read a story with a lot of description and have students identify the property words. Chart the words. How many of the words have students already learned or put on the word wall. For example, many early education curriculum focus on senses. Here is a sample list to use in conjunction with activities related to human senses:
Vocabulary Used to Describe Observable Properties
Words to describe properties observed through seeing:
bright, dull, shiny, dazzle, dingy, sparkle, wavy, gnarled, smooth, rough, cloudy, transparent, translucent, opaque, clear, shady, light, dark, dreary, crooked, flashing, narrow, wide, wrinkled, blinking, vibrating, moving, still, fast, slow, glowing, jagged, sharp
Words to describe properties observed through touching:
smooth, rough, bumpy, sticky, soft, hard, solid, firm, cool, cold, warm, slimy, slippery, freezing, damp, prickly, sharp, wet, light, weight, heavy, crisp, hot, tickle, dry, furry, jagged, crunchy, scalding, sandy, pointy
Words to describe properties observed through listening:
rattle, cry, shriek, crash, bang, boom, snap, crackle, pop, fizz, ping, pong, ding, dong, singing, splash, drip, squeak, sqwack, squeal, gasp, creak, croak, chirp, roar, buzz, whispers
Words to describe properties observed through smelling:
smoky, musty, damp, acrid, sweet, sour, grassy, woody, fresh, outdoorsy, hospital, alcohol, pungent, rotten, spicy, sweaty, skunky, burnt
Words to describe properties observed through tasting:
sweet, sour, salty, bitter, spicy, peppery, savory, rich, salty, hot, medium, cool, crunchy, creamy, cold, fizzy, juicy, dry, slimy ,goushy, tasty
Concepts and Generalizations for early science curriculum
- People learn with careful observation.
- People learn by observing objects and interactions of objects.
- Observations can be compared through communication of properties.
- When people report different observations they can take more observations to try and find agreement.
- Tools can be used to make better and more accurate observations (magnifiers).
- Objects have many observable properties, including color, texture, size, weight, shape, temperature, and the ability to interact with other objects. See also observational vocabulary list.
- Objects are described and identified by their properties.
- Objects can be separated or sorted into groups of objects or materials by their properties.
Don't be afraid to try activities and learn with the students. Your modeling of the science processes and your attitudes will be some of the most important lessons you teach, because as students develop positive attitudes about science and the ability to inquire they are gaining the freedom to do their own learning.
Science Activities for the Early Childhood Classroom by topics
Color related activities
- Explore colors - shades, tints, match colors. When does the color red become pink? When doe light green become green? Become dark green?
- Sort a box of 32/ 64 crayons by color
- Paint chip matching, sorting, visit paint store
- Sort objects according to color: vegetables, fruits, nuts, cloths, paper,
- Look at different colors in different light: outside, fluorescent, incandescent, LD, 40 watt, 100 watt, is it brighter? Redder? Shiny?
- Sort according to warm, cold, or neutral colors
- Mix food colors, paint, watercolors, tempera paint, and finger paint
- Color with markers, crayons, chalk, or paint on different textures of paper: newsprint, paper towels, yellow paper, notebook paper, tissue paper, corrugated cardboard, flat cardboard, tissue paper, sandpaper, wax paper
- Write on the different papers with different pencils, pens, markers
- Color with different colors of crayons, chalk, or paint on same color of paper
- Wet the different papers and draw and color on them. Try different liquids: water, liquid starch, and buttermilk
- Blow paint with straws, paint by dripping paint from a detergent bottle, use different utensils as a brush: potato masher, fork...
- Make and use a spatter box (screen)
- Paint on different fabrics
- Easter egg coloring contest liquid color, crayon first then liquid, or paint
- Color with crayon and feel the color, put shavings on waxed paper and melt between waxed paper with an iron, shine different light through it.
- Plastic melt, stain glass
- What colors are there?
- How are colors grouped or categorized?
- Why do people put things in group?
- How would you group/categorize a box of crayons?
Group the crayons in a box of crayons.
- What groups did you make? Why?
- How many groups do you have?
- Why did you pick the groups they did?
- What group has the most? Least? Middle?
- Organize them from most in a group to least.
If the amount of groups isnt workable ask them to group them into smaller groups or put more crayons in each group or give them a number of groups to put them into. Discuss how and why the groups are being made. Mention that people decide how to group objects and can choose different ways for different purposes.
Give students a piece of paper with a grid of squares (Make a grid with the number of rows of squares according to the number of color groups you want. Have them color with one color in each square. Might use the colors of the rainbow plus browns and blacks.
Pick a group of objects that students can use to go on a color hunt. Example fruit. Select one fruit for each grouping of students. Hold up one (banana) ask the students to observe what colors are on the banana. Use their color sheets and match colors to the colors on the fruit. Record each color on the fruit on a separate grid of squares. The banana may have brown, black, yellow, green, white. Have students do with other fruits, pineapple, apple, and others with a variety of colors. Have the students display their data. Count the number of colors for each. Order them from most colors to least. Least to most. Ask the students if a banana is really yellow? Why or why not? Same for others. Tell color is one property that is used to describe objects.
Show students a selection of different kinds of paper. Have them sort and classify them. Ask them to share how they sorted and write the descriptions they have on chart paper. Count sequence
Show the students a variety of writing instruments. Ask them to sort them
Have them use the writing instruments to write on the different kinds of paper.
Have them Pick one kind of paper and use any of the writing instruments to draw a picture of one of the fruits. Have them include all the colors they observed in their fruit.
Have them share their drawings and put them in groups.
Discuss that scientists sort, classify, objects in many ways by the properties that they observe. Ask them how they were scientists today.
Paper related activities
Concepts and Generalizations:
- Paper is made from fibers that are smashed, mixed in water, and dried on a screen.
- Different kinds of paper has different properties: ease of tearing, manner in which it is torn, absorbency, surface texture, color, folded, cut, woven
- Paper can be recycled.
- Paper is made from renewable resources.
- Renewable resources have finite amounts.
- Paper can be different colors, textures, can be folded easily, cuts easily, when folded and cut doesnt damage the integrity of the material, folds are sharp, can be glued easily, is inexpensive, can be made into containers, light weight, can be worked with cheaply.
- Collect a variety of paper and observe them (writing paper, construction paper, paper towels, toilet paper, wrapping paper, different colored paper, brown paper from sacks, cardboard, corrugated, oak tag, crepe paper, Kleenex, newsprint, rice paper,
- List properties on chart categorize paper into categories and glue samples of paper into the categories on a big chart.
- Folded paper, how easy do they fold? Fold a paper, open and how many creases? Fold again and open the paper and count the creases. What are the different ways that they can be folded? Hinge fold, flaps,
- Torn paper, how does the paper tear, straight crocked, Does paper tear the same in different directions? Art with torn paper Lois Ehlert,
- Marks on paper Have students put chalk, pen, marker, pencil marks on different type of paper. Discuss how each surface is different and how each might be better or what they could be used for. Good for writing, soaking up, art affect
- Cut paper, Cut each kind of paper and classify them as easy, medium, or hard to cut.
- Do same for curling paper.
- Make a paper collage. Review folding, tearing, cutting, curling and explain with examples of how each could be used. Lois Ehlert.
- Use of paper bags, wrapping, cleaning, containers, boxes, diapers,
- Paper interactions. How does paper interact with water? (cellulose, pulp, chipboard, lamination) Drops on paper. Select a variety of papers and drop 5 drops on each. Draw a circle where each absorbs. Sort by size of circle. Which absorbs most? Least? Put in order by absorbency. Which would be good for soaking up water? Protecting something from water? What would samples of paper look like if they soaked over night? Try and see. What if hang them up to dry, what would they look like when dry? Compare them with samples that havent been soaked (control).
- Making paper and variations (add glitter, leave rough (dont roll out) add grass, food coloring, roll with raised impressions.
- Paper mache.
- Make paper envelopes
- Observe how containers are constructed by taking them apart and putting them together. Take apart, trace, and construct new.
- Weave a paper mat. Cut strips with paper cutter. Cut folded sheet for base to weave with paper cutter by putting a stop block. Encourage different patterns beyond under over. Try under 1, over two, under 1 over 3, under one over 2 under 2 over 3
- Folding paper hat, cup, cube, prism, origami
Vocabulary for Paper Activities
absorb, alternate, apart, attach, base, bend, bottom, cardboard, change, collage, color, construct, construction paper, corrugated, crease, different, drop, dry, dull, edge, facial tissue, fasten, fiber, flap, flat, fold, form, hinge, layer, mold, newsprint, outline, paper towel, pattern, recycle, resist, roll, rough, same, screen, seam, shape, shiny , side, slick, slit, smooth, solid and dotted lines, stiff, strip, striped, strong, submerge, oak-tag, tear, texture, thick, thickness, thin, together, top, trace, water, waxed paper, weave, wet, wheat paste.
What are fasteners? ties, buttons, zippers, buckles, Velcro, bobby pins, barrettes, ribbons, pins, clasps, jewelry, staples, paper clips, glue, rubber bands, tacks, nails, screws, paper fasteners, yarn, thread, doorknobs, latches, magnets, picture hooks, flannel boards, hinges, padlocks, cement, keystones, rivets, seat belts, gravity
Take a fastener walk and identify some.
Construction related activities
- Wood what kind of texture, grain, hardness, and softness?
- Can you match shavings with wood? Sawdust to wood?
- Match metal or plastic shavings or dust to large pieces
- Use fingernails to scratch test wood to sort and order
- Classify and order by color, weight, roughness, smoothness, shape of grain, or size
- What happens when you sand wood? Use different weights of sandpaper and see what the difference is.
- How hard do you have to pound to pound in nails? Different nails are different? Is it easier to pound them into different sides of the wood? Which is easier? What about pounding them into a knot?
- Take a field trip to an arboretum, park, forest, nursery, school yard,
- How many trees are in the park? On the school ground? How could you measure them?
Sand related activities
- Use sand to explore spatial relationships.
- What holds more? Pour sand into different containers and compare.
- Order the containers from least to most.
- Wet the sand and make groups of one container to see how many it takes to make another.
- Also fill and dump to see what reverse looks like.
- Use juice containers to do with cylinder shape. Sequence
- How long does it take different amounts of sand to flow through a funnel? a sieve? Do different sizes of funnels and sieves make a difference? Does wet sand? How much faster does dry sand flow?
- How many cups in a bucket? This is hard for young children to do because they are being so careful coordinating their body to scoop and level sand that they loose count. Also learn as more sand more mass.
- Use a balance to weigh and order sand masses.
Air related activities
- Can you see it? Feel it? How do you know it is there? Fill a bag with air. Feel it? How would you measure it? Bubbles in a glass of water? How do you measure it?
- Activities with balloons
- Build sailboats.
Senses related activities
- Build a closed box with a sock attached to it so students may put their hand into the box by putting their hand into the sock. Or just put a stretch sock over a coffee can and push the sock into the can to feel inside.
- Make clothe bags from lightweight fabric so they can feel objects through it. If you desire put zippers on so they can look inside if you want. Objects to use: Ping-Pong ball, spoon, toy car, marble, ribbon, sponge, towel, foil, nuts, fruit, vegetables, eraser, feather, sandpaper, velvet...
- Could also use the same objects to have a feel day where students rub these objects on each others arms.
- Have a vegetable day or fruit day to feel and taste different fruits and vegetables. Good for language development: sticky, gooshy, mushy, hairy, prickly, and nutrition.
- Smell containers: put drops of different smells, or objects into containers, put the same smell into more than one container and have the students match the containers with the same smells.
- Moms and babies: same as above only tell the students about how some animals find their young by smell and have give each student a jar for the mother or smaller jar with the same smell and have the mother find the baby (ies).
- Take a barefoot walk. mud, sand, grass, pebbles, water, twigs, pine needles, concrete, rubber tires, leaves, plastic, foam...
- Can do indoors with pillows, rugs, foil, towels, screen...
- Scavenger feely hunt at home and have students bring in different objects for others to feel.
- Have the students play with clay with their eyes closed. Allow peaking. Add water to feel the difference. What happens? Poke holes in it, make snakes...
Nature related activities
- Collect do not need to name, just observe, take pictures, maybe identify later, Ask about the color. Different kinds of green? Sort the plants. Any you know? Any grow in stone? How?
- Was there wind? What effect did it have? on dust? dirt? grass? trees? What moves? how? sounds? Can you tell the direction of the wind by the way the trees blow? Act like a tree when the wind blows. Look at the objects caught in a fence or hedge. Collect them, sort them, classify them. Are any decomposing or rotting? Categorize as rot or not rot.
- Walk on a sunny day and feel the following objects: tree trunk, metal playground equipment, glass, wood fence, bricks (north and south side of building), stones, sidewalk, leaves, plants...
- After a rain look at the puddles and worms. What path does the water take? Why? Do they join paths? Why? Where do they? Why? why does the water turn? Is it moving fast or slow? Why? Is the water hot or cold?
- Collect leaves, press, sort, and classify.
- Feel the bark of trees, make bark rubbings with crayons and paper.
- Can you find scars on trees? Do branches or leaves make scars?
- Lay on the ground and look up into a tree very quietly, do you see birds, squirrels, nests, insects, ants, spiders? What do they do?
- Find one type of plant. Can you find others that are the same species? Are they all identical? Why or why not?
- Look at dandelions, are the stems different than grass? Can you make a dandelion chain? Can you find a parachute? What advantage is this for the plant? Why?
- Other plants to look for: Plantain, chickweed (smooth and hairy), clover, oxalic (clover like but leaves are heart shaped) fescue, foxtail, goose-grass (pattern? seed head resembles a zipper, grows like spokes on a wheel), brome grass(letter M at base in spring), catnip (square stem), cottonwood (flat stem), (pentagon),
- On all of these students can look at the leaves, roots, stems, flowers, and sort and classify.
- Plant grass: prepare the soil, plant, water, mulch, and watch until time to cut. Students may then appreciate the grass more and take care of it and use sidewalks. Plant in Dairy Queen Parfait glass with different layers of dirt and see how the grass grows and how the roots interact with the different types of soil.
- What is the temperature (Use digital thermometers) of the soil, air, water? At different depths. At different times of the day. Different season.
Dirt related activities
- Look at gravel, sand, clay, soil. Are the textures the same? color? Break apart the same? Squeeze the same?
- Where can each type be found?
- What happens if water is added to each? Does it soak in the same? What happens if you squeeze the soil with the water?
- Which one is better? Why? Which one will grow plants better? Plant grass: prepare the soil, plant, water, mulch, and watch until time to cut. Students may then appreciate the grass more and take care of it and use sidewalks. Plant in Dairy Queen Parfait glass with different layers of dirt and see how the grass grows and how the roots interact with the different types of soil.
- Get some soil samples and look at them. Do you find these types of soil in any kind of soil? What advantages are there for having each type of soil?
- What types do you find in different locations? garden, schoolyard, park, ant hill, roadside, eroded ditch, river bank, pond bottom, ball field. Discuss each.
- Revisit each place after a rain.
- What is the temperature (Use digital thermometers) of the soil? At different depths. At different times of the day. Different season.
- Find holes in the ground. What makes them? How might this help soil?
- Make an earthworm farm.
Music related activities
Match sounds, piano, beat, voice, see sound activities...
Animal related activities
- Classify, collections of dogs, cats...
- Watch animals ants, worms, birds, insects
- Take a walk, schoolyard, park, street, woods...
- Classroom goldfish, gerbils, guinea pigs, rats, mice, chicken eggs, turkey eggs, pheasant eggs, lizard, anole, salamander, garter snake, other snakes, land snails, turtle, crickets, caterpillars, grasshoppers, spiders, toads, frogs, smaller insects, tadpoles, water bugs, ...
- Compare animals: type of body parts, numbers of body parts, birth of young, how many rats are born to one parent in a school year? What is the difference between a gerbil, rat, or guinea pig baby? What is the difference in different birds when they hatch? What is the difference in the number of toes on mammals? On other classes of animals?
- Toads: count toes, find ears, find poison glands on back, teeth?
- Grasshoppers: How many eyes? 2 compound 5 simple = 7?
- Spiders: how many eyes? how walk on web?
- Collect several insects: what do they all have in common?
- Snake: how do they feel? cold? smooth? tongue? bones? teeth?
Store related activities
Collect different containers from a grocery store and have the students classify them in several different ways. Then visit a grocery store and make a map of the way that the store managers have organized the different products. Visit other stores and find how they classify their inventory.
Space related activities
- Gravity, roll objects, pencils, pens, cans, spheres, slide boxes, Hot wheel cars ramp loops, time, change slope, mass, have wrecks, change slope and mass of objects, measure
- Push pull experiences
- Relative position front, back, over, under, top, bottom, middle
- Try to find a plane when hear it
- What happens to water when different objects are put in? (See water activities)
Light related activities
- Look at objects through cellophane
- Make shadows. Rotate the objects in the light and see how the shadow changes. Have students draw shadows and have them match them to the objects. Go to the play ground and trace shadows. Repeat at different time intervals.
Plant related activities
- Seed collections (children enjoy collecting about anything)
- Plant seeds watch grow, plant in different soils
- Observe different seeds to see what they have in common
- Classify seeds. Label seed parts on different seeds.
- Make a garden in a wading pool, put a large tub in the garden and make a pond, use clear plastic tubing to connect one tub to another one. Put animals in and see in which tub they spend more time. Why? What happens if cover and make one light other dark? Cover with cellophane?
Water related activities
- What objects sink or float in water?
- Challenge to find a way to make sink or float.
- Build clay boats, aluminum foil boats, Styrofoam, what and how much can they carry?
- Melt snow and ice, how much water comes from each?
- How can you make it melt faster or slower?
- Will different sizes of containers fill faster or slower?
- Put holes in different containers at different places and time how the water leaks.
- Make a siphon and time the rate. What happens if change size of tubes or hose?
- How will food coloring mix with different colors of water? Different temperatures? Different densities? Make different colored salt water, alcohol. Put into water or other liquids. What happens when different liquids are mixed? Which liquid will float or sink in another. Use the Dairy Queen Parfait cups and make a liquid parfait.
- Make bubbles. Use different sizes and shapes of wands. Joy soap works well.
- Drop different types of liquids from an eye dropper. How do different liquids pile up on different surfaces: aluminum, glass, plastic, wood, sandpaper... How many drops of different liquids does it take to fill the same size of circle? On different types of surfaces?
Tool related activities
- Label, classify, immediate application for students
- Household tools, kitchen, workshop, desk