There’s no denying that children are infinitely curious about the world around them, constantly wondering about how things work and why things happen the way they do. Early childhood is the perfect time to take advantage of that natural thirst for knowledge by introducing and encouraging simple science concepts through everyday activities and play.
You can encourage your children to observe their surroundings without doing anything out of the ordinary. As you run errands, describe what you see, smell, and hear and encourage your children to do the same. Games like I-Spy are great exercises in observation, especially for young children. Sensory activities are another exercise that is especially effective with preschoolers.
Playing with Play-Doh or moon sand allows children to explore texture and smell, while manipulating small tools like cookie cutters and rolling pins helps fine motor skills to develop. Homemade peanut butter dough (made from mixing equal parts powdered sugar and creamy peanut butter) even allows children to use their sense of taste!
A sensory bin filled with small beans or dry pasta, water and sea shells, foam letters, or natural elements like sticks and pinecones and a variety of pouring and scooping tools can keep preschoolers busy for hours. The contents of the bin can be rotated, so that it never loses its appeal.
Exploring nature is another easy way to encourage observation. Go for a nature walk with your children and collect interesting rocks, pinecones, leaves, and other natural elements.
These objects are especially fascinating to young children when they examine them with a magnifying glass. You can modify this activity by painting the individual compartments of a clean egg carton with colors found in nature and then searching for objects to match each color.
Hypothesis and Experimentation
Children love to be active participants, so next time you hear “Why?” let them get involved in answering their own question. Guide them in developing a hypothesis and help them carry out a simple experiment.
You can also set up simple experiments for them to do with minimal assistance. A large ice block with brightly colored toys in it presents an interesting challenge for preschoolers: How can they quickly melt the ice to get to the toys? Along with any ideas they might have, offer simple tools like a toy hammer, a large rock, and a bowl of rock salt for them to experiment with.
A similar experiment that is perfect for winter months is testing to see which room of your house is warmest. Put equal amounts of snow into several containers—make sure the containers are all similar in size and material! Ask your child to place the containers in several different locations throughout your house and make a guess as to which container will melt first. Periodically check the containers to see their progress and then discuss why some melted faster than others.
By encouraging your children to develop good observation skills and guiding them through simple experiments, you are helping them to develop important problem-solving skills and teaching them how to learn. But your kids won’t think so—they will simply think that they are having fun!