Children are naturally curious self-motivated learners. Their desire to question, imagine, explore, and investigate is part of their very being, and this sense of investigation provides the foundation for science exploration. Children learn best through hands-on experiences allowing them to investigate and discover their environment.
Children are just like scientists in many ways, and you can help satisfy your child’s curiosity through various means. Among these are allowing them to learn through trial and error, figuring things out for themselves, through persistence, their senses, and by observing others and imitating their play.
The backyard of your home or a neighborhood park can be a great place for children to explore their environment. Below are a few ideas you can do with your child to help bring out the scientist in them.
Plant Textures: Build the language of texture and other physical properties by looking at, feeling and smelling a variety of plants. Pine needles and pine cones have rough, pointy, prickly surfaces. Tree bark can also be rough, but the bark of some trees is very smooth. Many leaves are soft on one side and rougher on another and each smells different too. Spend as much time as possible describing all of these sights, smells and textures!
Bubbles: Children love bubbles, and allowing them to explore them outside will keep your house clean!
Breezes: We know that children at these ages are all about using their senses and building basic vocabulary. As you walk or sit in a park, describe whatever evidence you have of the effects of the wind with statements like “Look how the tree’s branches are moving in the wind!” or “I see your hair blowing—is mine?” You can also work with your child to create your own “wind” by blowing on a dandelion flower that’s gone to seed or a pinwheel you’ve brought along for the occasion.
In the sandbox: Children love exploring in the sandbox. In the sandbox they will move sand by digging, pouring and using trucks. As your child investigates the sand, describe what he or she is doing and likely to be feeling with comments such as “You’re using your shovel to dig a deep hole! You’re pouring the sand to fill up the big bucket,” and “This wet sand is a different color from the dry sand.” These kinds of descriptions help your child build language about physical properties of materials.