Our five year old is too young for some of the cool science kits on the market, and he’s not happy about it. So I reached out to Brian Hostetler, an educator at The Denver Museum of Nature & Science, for some simple, age-appropriate science tips.
I expected to ask him about a few messy experiments we could conduct as a family, and he delivered. But Hostetler also discussed how parents can introduce science to their children in more ways than one, and I would be foolish not to pass those tips along.
Weather permitting, it’s as easy as going to the nearest park – particularly if you live near a slow-moving stream or the mountains. You’ll find bug larvae, frogs, crustaceans, all kinds of cool stuff, he promises.
That’s science in a nutshell, observing things in nature in a safe manner.
Make sure to bring along a guide of sorts, from a nature book to an app that can help identify the creatures you see along the way. Hostetler recommends the Audubon app which gives fathers a great electronic field guide. Your local science museum also may offer helpful handout, he adds.
Observe and Report
One way to make the outing feel like a real scientific expedition is to take notes. Bring a small journal or even a dry erase board so you and your child can record what you see. Try to connect your findings to the big outdoor picture. That will spark their imaginations and enhance the trip’s educational component.
“If you find certain types of animals … there’s got to be a lot of food around for them …. what might they be eating?” he says. It’s one of the leading questions fathers should ask to promote scientific curiosity.
Want Science? Just Look Up
The weather won’t cooperate for a science trip? Hostetler recommends a quick round of “Shadow Tracking” to delight your small kids.
“Stand on a sidewalk at a set time in the morning and outline your shadow with chalk. Come back to the exact same spot throughout the day at 1-2 hour intervals to observe the change in shadow’s position and draw again,” he says.
Later, discuss how and why the shadow changed, explore the earth’s revolutions and how light and shadows work.
Or, wait for a clear night and see what stars you can name with the help of a handy star map. Hostetler suggests children try to build their own constellations, naming them after a favorite pet or family member.
Blind Your Child with Science!
One of Hostetler’s favorite, child-friendly experiments involves a 1 or 2-liter bottle of soda, some vinegar and baking soda.
Empty, wash out and dry the soda bottle and put a modest amount of vinegar in it. Next, put some baking soda in an ordinary balloon and attach the balloon’s mouth to the bottle’s opening without letting the soda out – yet.
Next, allow your child to let some of the baking soda from the balloon enter the bottle where it will mix with the vinegar. Make sure you’re holding both the bottle and the balloon firmly. The two chemicals will interact and produce Carbon Dioxide which will begin inflating the balloon.
Another experiment is very hands on and teaches children about the various states of matter. To make Oobleck, presumably named after the green glue seen in the Dr. Seuss yarn “Bartholomew and the Oobleck,” requires just water, corn starch and a table you don’t mind making a little messy.
Take one part water, two parts corn starch and mix. The result is a solution that doesn’t act like a typical fluid. Press on it hard and it solidifies. Relieve the pressure and it turns back into a liquid. It’s a way to illustrate different states of matter with your child. You can do the same by putting an ice cube in a skillet and slowly watch it turn into a liquid and then a gas, Hostetler notes, but that isn’t as much fun.
“Get your science coat out, we’re gonna go do some acid-based experiments,” he says.
Here are some other simple science experiments you might consider:
Cleanup, Cleanup, Everybody Everywhere
For safety protocols, an inexpensive pair of goggles may be more protection than you’ll ever need for such basic experiments, but it can’t hurt and your child might feel more professional wearing them. Or, buy a kid-sized lab coat and let them decorate it themselves.
Hostetler says it’s both fun and helpful to wrap a round of science experiments by slathering shaving cream on the surface in play. Shaving cream can soften leftover glue and take up washable marker scribblings, and it leaves a clean smell behind. Let your children spread it around with their bare hands, giving them a textural experience while helping absorb the chemicals used minutes earlier. Wiped it all away with some wet paper towels and the table is ready for other uses.
Does your family have any fun science experiments? Please share them below!
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