Whether it’s biology on a bush walk or chemistry in the kitchen … for some family fun, give science exploration a go!
Science is people, animals, plants, magnets, light, colour, sound, movement, electricity and so much more! Science helps kids think broadly and creatively, and it helps them to become problem-solvers and careful observers of their world. But without our encouragement, some kids start to think science is too hard or boring. We can play an important role in making science fun and helping them get a firm grasp on how our world works.
baffled by biology?
Nature has an amazing effect on kids: it brings out the scientist in them. My daughter’s kindy takes regular bush walks into a local forest, and it’s surprisingly easy to make biology exciting in this environment. The kids don’t even know they’re learning. We overturn logs and catch a peek at the tiny communities hiding under them, uncurl baby ferns and poke at the spongy moss. Adults have an important role to play in this kind of science, and, thankfully, it’s one that doesn’t require us to have all the answers. Exploring things with children, encouraging their curiosity, and rediscovering the joy and mystery in our world keeps the sense of wonder alive for kids.
Encourage your children to look for patterns and observe changes. Help them see variety and describe what they see. Ask them questions like “What if …” and “How come …”. But don’t be afraid to point out what you notice and share your knowledge. If you don’t have nature nearby, bring it to you: buy a house plant for your child and put them in charge of caring for it. Or try making a bug garden in a shady corner of your yard. All you need is a few logs, old pots or bricks. Wait for the bugs, then teach the kids to carefully turn over objects and view what’s underneath.
Just about any kind of science can happen in a kitchen really, not just chemistry. Of course, my favourite science experience is heat applied to chocolate, but there are many more. Watching yeast rise for homemade pizza dough, making chemical reactions with baking soda and vinegar, altering substances by mixing, heating or cooling them … yes, baking is science!
Eggs are interesting too. Here are three of our favourite eggs-periments:
- Sink or float? Does a fresh egg sink? What about a rotten one? Add salt to the water – what does the fresh egg do now?
- Place the fresh egg in a clear container and carefully pour hot water over it. Use a magnifying glass to observe what happens. Ask your child: where did the tiny bubbles come from? How does the air get out of the egg?
- Place a raw egg in a glass of vinegar overnight. In the morning, the shell will be gone. Get your child to drop the egg (from about 10cm) and see what happens (it will bounce). What height can your child drop it from before it bursts?
And then there’s quick sand, fake snot, tornadoes in a bottle and so many other fun experiments – most of which you can find instructions for online at www.sciencekids.co.nz.
fun with physics
Physics is a very exciting area of science. This year, in our homeschool, all our physics experiments will revolve around balloon science – propulsion, pressure, friction and many other concepts can be taught with balloons. You can demonstrate a number of physics ideas by firing bottle rockets with the children. Bottle rockets take a bit of preparation, but physics can be very easy and inexpensive. When our eldest daughter was 11, we came across little parachute men in the $2 shop. Standing on the couch just wasn’t a satisfying enough height to drop them from. So, using the local park and objects found around home, we spent hours inventing various slings and catapults to shoot the little men as high as possible while still having their parachutes open. What started as a simple two minute game became a hilarious, quite competitive, science activity.
Science in motion: On a hot day, try this pressure experiment using balloons filled with water. Pre-fill the balloons to about the size of a grapefruit. As you hand them to your child, use a toothpick to poke a hole near the tie (where the balloon is thickest). They can squeeze the balloon to draw pictures on the concrete or walls. Or just run around and squirt each other!
Try bending water using a balloon. Rub the balloon on dry hair and then turn on the tap and hold it towards the stream of water. Watch as the water bends from the static electricity you have made.
ages and stages
Under-5s will be exploring their world and developing their own interests. Use these interests to expand on their scientific curiosity and questioning. Children in this stage need lots of exposure to different experiences. Make some gloop by mixing cornflour and water until it is liquid when poured, but solid when squeezed. (Warning: this experiment is messy but heaps of fun!)
6- to 9-years will be adding to their discoveries by seeking out answers. Find books, documentaries and real life examples for them to extend their knowledge and see patterns. For a simple but interesting experiment, place a slice of fruit on a tray and leave it to decompose (spray with water occasionally). Watch it over time and talk about the changes they notice. They could take photos and make a slideshow or movie of the process.
9- to 12-years will be able to explore solutions to real life problems, or even future potential problems, and see others doing the same. Websites and visits to see science in action can be helpful. Discuss an issue they are interested in and suggest they design a solution (draw, make, build a lego model) and share it with you.
www.thekidshouldseethis.com (smart videos for curious kids of all ages) has many high-quality, kid-friendly, age-appropriate videos on science, technology, space, animals, nature, animation and much more.
Kelly Eden-Calcott is a writer, and trained teacher with degrees in Education and Early Intervention. She lives with two curious little scientists and often an array of curious little bugs in jars.