Science with young children

The world around us is a pretty incredible place and this is what your young child should be exploring as a basis for scientific learning and discovery when s/he is older. Science can be seen as the territory of geeks and the uber-clever, but this stereotyping does nothing to help our children progress. Firstly, what is wrong with being a ‘geek’ or very clever? Secondly, at a basic level, science is both common sense and fascinating.

The everyday world is a place to be explored when you are a child and exploring it with your child can make you re-examine things you take for granted and find out answers to questions you hadn’t even thought of. The seminal scientist, Carl Sagan said, “All children start out as scientists, full of curiosity and questions about the world around them” and it is this sense of wonder which we as parents need to nurture. Science is not just experienced in the classroom.  Especially at pre-school and primary age there are loads of things you can easily do at home.

So, what can you do?

  • Let your child explore his/her world alone, within safe parameters

    • The newborn who grabs at a toy on a play-gym, the baby who crawls to a table and pushes his head against the leg, the toddler who eats mud and the preschooler who mixes strange cooking ingredients to make ‘dinner’ are all scientifically exploring. Ensure that your children are in a safe environment, but also don’t be afraid to take a step back and let them find out what happens. If we solve all problems before they occur, children won’t learn important lessons about themselves and their world.

  • Set up explorations of properties

    • Encourage your child to play with sand, water, mud. You don’t need expensive sand and water tables, a bucket filled with mud, a variety of old containers and a spoon will keep your child amused for hours.

  • Introduce the big concepts

    • Don’t be afraid to tell children, even young ones, about the big concepts in science from an early age (everything is made from atoms; your body is made up of cells etc). Whilst they may not understand the ideas right now, you are laying pathways for future learning.

  • Do experiments

    • These don’t have to be big or complicated; there are many things you can do with household items. Experiments are fun. They allow children to see ‘what happens if’ and learn a bit more about the world around them. Children remember things better if they have a practical example to go with them.

  • Encourage prediction

    • In everyday life encourage your child to predict “what will happen if…” and let them test their hypothesis. This is the basis of science. From predicting whether a cake will rise, to whether a stick will break if you jump on it, your child will be learning about the properties of materials around him/her.

  • Encourage questions

    • Developing an enquiring mind is the most important thing that you can do to help your child progress both in science and in other areas. Allow all questions and attempt to answer all questions. If you don’t know the answer, find out with your child. Kids ask some of the most surprising things and don’t worry if you don’t know the answer, you can look it up with them. Showing that you are also learning is a good thing.

  • Use basic science words

    • One of the key areas of early science is materials and their properties. The best way to learn about these is to talk about them. If you describe the things around you, your child will have a much better understanding of them. Most key words at this level are merely descriptions of of objects and processes. e.g.: hard, soft, sharp, smooth, wet, dry, liquid, solid, heavy, light, fast, slow, light, dark, hot, cold, heating, cooling, mixing, solid, liquid, gas

  • Explore difference and similarity

    • Help your child to understand and sort things by differences; at a basic level, group by shape, colour, texture etc. At a more complex level, explore the difference between living and non-living things; the difference between reversible and irreversible changes (e.g freezing water vs mixing a cake mixture; making and breaking lego structures vs tearing up newspaper)

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