The winter months can be particularly challenging for teachers and caregivers of preschoolers. The cold temperatures can keep you indoor-bound and once boredom kicks in, preschool tempers can flair. Here are some indoor science experiments to keep your group busy when it’s too cold to go outside. Remember young children learn via their senses, so doing hands-on science activities is the perfect way to spark a love for discovery and education.
Help children experiment with objects and water to determine which materials absorb water and which do not. Think about sponges, cotton, corks and so on. A classic preschool experiment is to dye celery stalks. It will illustrate how water rises up the veins in the stalks of plants and trees.
• stalk of celery • water • food coloring • clear plastic cup or glass • white carnation flower (optional)
1. Cut across the bottom of a stalk of celery and help children place it into a glass of colored water. Tint the water with drops of food coloring to make it a dark color. It’s best to use red or blue.
2. Watch carefully! Within several hours, they will be able to trace the pathways in the stem by following the colored lines in the stalks. Eventually, even the leaves will turn color.
3. Your group may wish to draw a picture, illustrating this science experiment.
How to use:
As a variation, cut the stem across a white carnation and place it into colored water. Proceed as above and watch this flower change colors.
Basic Kitchen Science-The Volcano
Volcanoes are formed when magma, which forms below the surface of the earth, erupts. According to scientists, there are 1511 volcanoes that have erupted over the past 10,000 years. The largest volcano on the earth is Mauna Loa, located in Hawaii. This volcano is six miles high. Experiment with common kitchen ingredients to create a volcano-like “eruption.”
• small can or bottle with wide opening • 12 inch x 12 inch piece of scrap wood • clay or sand • 1/2 cup water • 1/4 cup vinegar • 1/4 cup dish washing liquid • 1/4 cup baking soda • red food coloring • plastic bottle
1. Invite children to mold clay into a volcanic shape around the can or bottle. Let them place the volcano on a piece of scrap wood. This will allow your group to move the volcano anywhere in the room.
2. Invite a child in your group to pour the baking soda into the volcano opening.
3. Then, mix the vinegar, water, and dish washing liquid in the plastic bottle.
4. For special effects, add red food coloring to the liquid mixture.
5. Let another child pour some of the mixture into the volcano.
(Save some of the mixture for repeat performances.)
6. Watch what happens!
Sink and Float
Some objects in our environment sink in water, whereas others float. Help children to observe and experiment with various objects to discover what sinks and what floats.
First, ask children if they know what it means to float. Relate this concept to swimming and bathing in a bathtub. Talk about why some objects float and some do not. When an object goes to the bottom of the water, we say it sinks. Talk about the term experiment. Help children understand that when they try things out to see if their ideas are correct, they are experimenting. Tell children that they are going to be doing an experiment to see which things float in water and which things sink.
• basin filled with water • feather • leaf • string • screw • button • crayon • rock
1. Invite children to help collect various objects.
2. Talk about whether each item will sink or float when dropped in the water. Record their predictions on a piece of paper.
3. Challenge children to drop the objects one at a time into the water.
4. Record the actual sink/float outcome for each object. Invite your group to divide the objects into sinking and floating categories.
Young children enjoy playing with magnets of all sizes and shapes. They often think that magnets work by magic. Help children do a simple experiment that will encourage them to study these fascinating objects further.
Show a magnet to children to see if they can identify it. Discuss how certain objects will stick to magnets and others will not. (To be attracted to the magnet, objects must contain a certain metal.) Demonstrate the magnet’s capabilities with classroom objects. Review the term experiment. Tell children that they are going to do some experiments to see which objects stick to a magnet and which do not. Have children sort the materials they have collected-which ones stick to magnets and which do not.
Use magnets at your center to illustrate stories by attaching magnets to paper characters. These can be used on metal baking sheets as your storyboard. Or, use the activity below, where children can use magnetic shapes to create pictures.
• colored cardboard • scissors (ADULT USE) • magnetic adhesive tape
1. Cut various sizes of circles, squares, and triangles from colored cardboard or use crayons or markers to color brown cardboard. Attach a strip of magnetic tape to the backs of the shapes.
2. Let children arrange the shapes on your refrigerator door or other metal surface to create pictures and designs.
The World of Nature by Wendy Pfeffer [First Teacher Press]
Personal Experience in the Classroom