Kids are born curious. They wonder about everything and ask a lot of questions—some of which you may find yourself unable to answer! These pre-school years before formal education begins are also a period of rapid brain development, during which the foundation is constructed for future learning, behavior and health. It is, therefore, a perfect time to harness their curiosity and focus it on scientific discovery of the world around them. By providing plenty of fun, hands-on activities that capture their curiosity and engage the senses, parents can challenge kids to learn through play. Conducting simple experiments for preschoolers will encourage their sense of wonder and build a strong foundation for innovative thinking. And, if your kids find these activities cool and exciting, they can gain even more exposure to science at a great summer camp that can help keep their brains in shape before returning to school in the fall.
Thinking Like a Scientist
A meaningful science experience for preschool kids can begin quite simply with a walk outside, a bath or a trip to the kitchen for a snack. These informal settings provide great opportunities for discovery and creative thinking. As kids inquire into the world around them, discoveries should unfold for them, guided by the caring adults in their lives. These process skills will help them think like scientists.
- Observing: Start with phenomena in your environment. Everyone can make observations. These are simply expressions of how something looks, sounds, feels, smells or tastes. Encourage adjectives as you have your kids describe common items. For example: a tennis ball is round, bouncy, felted, neon green, etc.
- Communicating: Young kids are very open to learning and take pride in using the real terms for objects, living things and places around them. Don’t shy away from using more complex words to describe things. For example, the next time your kid gets a bump or bruise at the playground, don’t be afraid to teach them the names of the bones in the toe they stubbed or the knee they scraped.
- Classifying/Sorting: Encourage kids to make connections between people, places and objects based on observable characteristics. Choose two descriptive terms and prompt kids to sort objects into categories, such as salty and sweet or smooth and rough.
- Measuring: Give preschoolers practice measuring with simple devices (measuring cups and spoons) and with nontraditional benchmarks (paper clips, their shoe, blocks). Help them line up their benchmarking devices, then count how many are needed to reach across the item being measured.
- Inferring: Kids can conclude why something happened based on their observations. This helps kids tap into their prior knowledge and understand cause and effect.
- Predicting: Ask kids to think about what they already know and tell what will happen next. “If I put the ball at the top of a hill, it will roll down.”
Conducting Simple Experiments
After you’ve helped your kids practice these scientific processing skills, you can then help put them into application via experimentation. An experiment involves a series of steps to test a hypothesis. Let your kids drive the investigations while you empower their ideas. Take your cues from their questions and interests. Consider and talk about safety, as there may be dangers inherent in science experiments. Start with a question: “What will happen if—? Which one—? What if we—?” Have kids make a prediction and then test the hypothesis. Gather your data, discuss the results and draw a conclusion. Allow kids to document the process with a cell phone camera or help them create a simple pictograph or bar graph of the results.
Here are some easy-to-implement experiment ideas to get you started:
- Sink or float? Have kids predict whether common household items will sink or float. Then collect data on a simple graph. Look back and talk about what happened. Ask kids what to test next time.
- What do plants need? Help kids make a prediction about the conditions needed for plants to grow, then test their hypothesis. Use a simple chart to track growth; have kids measure and draw their results.
- Is it attracted to a magnet? Gather a variety of small objects and a magnet; ask kids to predict which items will be attracted to the magnet. Sort them into separate piles and record the results with a photo.
- Why does an apple turn brown? Secure an apple, a lemon and a knife. Cut the apple in half, then the lemon. Talk with kids about what happens to an apple when we cut or bite it. Rub one half of the apple with the juice from the lemon and allow both halves to sit exposed to the air. As kids observe that the apple not rubbed with lemon has turned brown, explain that oxygen in the air caused the apple to change. The lemon juice slowed this reaction on the other side.
- Cars and ramps. Use cardboard or wood to create a ramp for toy cars. Have kids predict what will happen if they increase or decrease the slope or add friction with sandpaper or terry cloth.
Ready for More?
Preschool kids who thrive on science exploration may be ready for a summer day camp where science activities play a significant part in the daily schedule. Galileo’s variety of camp themes, where kids learn through play, are ideal for curious little ones. With a special emphasis on science, balanced with creative arts and outdoor play, these programs are geared to the unique developmental characteristics of preschool campers, called Nebulas. This age is the perfect time to introduce kids to the fascinating intricacies of the human body or the amazing geography of the United States. Kids who recognize the potential in found materials and possess an imaginative flair will revel in the makerspace challenge. Those who dream of blasting off on an outer space adventure will be intrigued by the week-long imaginary journey. With so much potential for brain growth during this time, it’s a great opportunity to challenge kids’ problem solving and critical thinking capacities. As they investigate and create, preschool campers develop an innovative mindset and collaborative competencies that will benefit them long term.
An innovation camp like Galileo that inspires little ones through thematic, multidisciplinary activities will celebrate their creativity and promote confident exploration. This will help to lay a strong, interconnected foundation and build confidence in anticipation of kindergarten, and for all the learning to come beyond it. Join our mailing list to stay up-to-date on the latest Camp G news, or sign up for camp today.