10 Toddler Science Activities that Are Full of Fun
Inside: This collection of toddler science activities are perfect for little explorers! Hands-on, fun, and full of learning opportunities!
Toddlers can be very curious about how things work.
In fact, you might hear “why?” a lot.
This is a good time to give them opportunities to investigate, finding answers to those “why” questions.
Simple, hands-on science exploration should be a part of your toddler curriculum. Simple, short ideas that work with their shorter attention spans.
Today I’m going to share 10 easy science activities for toddlers that you can easily add to your home or classroom.
Oh, and if you have other simple science ideas for young children, please share!
Exploring Sunflower Seeds: Strengthen those little fingers while pulling seeds from large sunflowers.
Painting on Ice Blocks: What happens to the paint as the ice starts to melt? Preschoolers love this activity, too!
What’s Magnetic: Fill a bin with large objects and a magnetic wand. Super easy! (Busy Toddler)
Which One is Heavier: This easy science activity only takes a couple of minutes to set up, using a child’s hanger and some paper cups. (Go Science Girls)
Will it Sink or Float: This is a favorite, mostly because it involves playing with water! (Hands On as We Grow)
Magnetic Discovery Bottle: Discovery bottles work well with toddlers because the small pieces are contained in the bottle. Move the wand and watch the pipe cleaner pieces move! (Frugal Fun 4 Boys and Girls)
Exploring Vegetable Seeds: This only takes a minute to set up! In fact, this would keep your toddler busy while you are fixing dinner. (Lemon Lime Adventures)
- Magic Milk Science Experiment: Perfect for little ones who have not yet experienced chemical reactions. (Laughing Kids Learn)
- Bubble Snake: Toddlers are learning how to blow bubbles, and they will love this easy DIY bubble snake activity! (One Little Project)
- Color Surprise Eruptions: Add simple color recognition to this fun science activity. (Learn, Play, Imagine)
Looking for toddler lesson plans?
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More toddler activities:
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- 30+ Toddler Indoor Activities
- 30+ Favorite Toddler Songs
How I Teach Science to Gifted Kids at Home
True story — my son looked over my shoulder as I edited the picture for this post and said, “Oh! This will be a good one. When can I read it?” I asked him why he thought it would be good, and he said, “Well, you’re a science writer and I know so much about science already because of you.”
- Which I thought was really nice and sweet… and he was rewarded with a big bowl of ice cream.
- Now I just need to live up to his expectations.
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Let me just start off by saying, I’m not a scientist. I’m a lifelong learner who loves the discovery aspect of science. I started freelance writing for the educational market and writing nonfiction books for kids when Molly was a newborn, and fell in love with science writing.
And, because my world was full of creating, testing, and adapting science experiments for book and magazine projects, my kids became my guinea pigs and photo models. And we all fell in love with discovery-based learning, particularly when it involved science.
- As a result, I don’t teach science to my kids.
- We play science together all the time.
Science as Play
Science for kids: How to raise a science-minded child
Science for kids?
Surely it begins at home. When kids grow up in
science-friendly homes, they are encouraged to ask questions, think critically, experiment, explain their reasoning, read, write, create models, and watch science programs on TV.
But what are the best activities and resources? And what about school? What do studies suggest about the best and worst ways to teach science in the classroom?
Perhaps the most important discovery is that kids benefit from explicit lessons in critical thinking. Studies suggest that students become better problem solvers–and even raise their IQs–when they are taught principles of logic, hypothesis-testing, and other methods of reasoning.
- Studies also suggest that kids learn more when they are required to explain their own reasoning.
- To read more, see my articles about teaching critical thinking and the educational benefits of self-explanation, as well as evidence-based tips for teaching science to kids (below).
- And, if you are looking for specific content to teach, check out these science activities for preschoolers, as well as my articles about teaching biology to older kids. These articles include
- In addition, I have reviewed advice from cognitive psychologist Rochel Gelman about teaching science to young children, and I discuss the ways that popular media and textbooks may actually thwart the development of critical thinking in children.
- What about keeping up with the latest discoveries?
When kids follow breaking news stories, they may feel more personally connected to science. Science news is also an opportunity for kids to consider the process of science–how new data may support or challenge old ideas.
- For the latest stories, check out Science News magazine, which has this fun online database of articles about science for kids.
- Science for kids in school
- Independent study doesn’t work for everyone
Some high schools in the United States have embraced an approach to science for kids known as “self-led inquiry.” With this approach, students are free to direct their own research projects. They design and carry out their own studies.
This sounds fun, and it might be a good approach for a kid who already has a strong background in math and science.
But for other kids, the “self-led inquiry” approach may lead to lower science grades in college. Researchers Robert Tai and Philip Sadler analyzed the performance of over 8000 U.S.
high school students.
They found that high school students with less advanced math backgrounds learned more science from teacher–structured laboratory experiences–not self-led inquiry (Sadler and Tai 2009).
Different educational systems face different challenges
Approaches to science education vary from country to country. Could any one plan improve them all? Finnish researcher Pasi Reinikainen argues that efforts to enhance science achievement should take local factors into account (Reinikainen 2007).
For instance, in England there is a link between frequent testing and science achievement—the more frequently students are tested, the poorer they perform in science. In Hungary, poor science achievement is linked with too much group work (because only some group members actively participate). In Russia, an emphasis on memorization is correlated with lower science achievement.
Can we make any generalizations? Perhaps a few.
Science for kids: General guidelines for promoting achievement
Depth, not breadth
Young children benefit from depth, not breadth–being immersed in the same subject matter for months, rather than jumping from topic to topic. And new research suggests that this approach helps older students, too.
In a study of American undergraduates, Marc Schwartz and his colleagues found that students whose high school science courses had covered at least one major topic in depth (i.e.
, for a month or longer) had better college grades than did peers who had learned about more topics during the same stretch of time.
Students whose high school coursework covered all the major topics didn’t have better college grades.
These correlations remained significant even after controlling for socioeconomic status, English skills, math achievement, and the rigor of high school science courses (Schwartz et al 2009).
How Kids Learn Science Best | Success for Students
The best way for kids to learn science is by doing real science hands-on. Doing science isn’t just for scientists and engineers. Rather it’s a way of learning about the world that comes naturally for kids, and is easily encouraged. Not convinced? Then read on!
Curiosity—Why? How? What?
Kids are highly curious about the world around them. Any parent knows that at a very early age kids begin to ask lots of “why” questions. Their questions have to do with real life and are therefore important to them.
Why do trees lose their leaves? How fast does a ball roll downhill? What creatures live in the soil? These questions are also the beginning of the learning process. We promote learning by inspiring, feeding and directing, their curiosity and questions.
We suppress learning by ignoring or discouraging their questions.
Finding Answers, Developing Skills
Kids are also astute observers. They automatically observe, think, and do. In naturally seeking real answers to their real questions kids progress further into the learning process.
As a result, they begin to develop science skills such as observing, classifying, reasoning, and predicting.
We further promote learning by helping children to develop these science skills, which will benefit them throughout their life.
Keep Learning “Hands-On”
Whether kids are walking in a park, playing with a ball, or digging in the dirt, they are fully engaged in questioning, observing, testing, thinking, and learning. They are in a sense “doing science”.
Kids learn science in a superior way when we direct their natural curiosity and build upon their developing science skills to actually do real science hands-on.
Simply stated, the best way for kids to learn science is by doing real science. A child can get scientific facts or even knowledge from a book. However, they are fully immersed in the learning process when they do science.
Getting hands-on with learning science also reinforces the highly beneficial “inquiry process”.
They start out posing a question to explore, move on to gathering information, interpret their findings, and report their findings. Each of these stages is fluid, not linear, and results in revision after revision.
With a hands-on approach to science, instead of finding the easy answers, students are inspired to ask questions about the world around them and apply this method to solve their own problems.
Need a little inspiration to foster learning science by doing science? Watch this one-minute video.
What is “Real Science?”
- Real science is learning about the world through hands-on observation, experimentation, and discovery.
- Doing real science starts with a question, followed by activities to explore and to seek an answer.
- Real science isn’t just for the classroom but is part of everyday life.
- Real science develops skills, ability, and capacity, not just knowledge.
Mistake #1: Don’t Be Too Quick to Give “Just the Facts”
A common mistake by parents and teachers is to only provide facts or a quick answer to a child’s question. While this is sometimes helpful and often convenient, it results in a stunted learning experience.
It also trains our kids to find and give answers without really thinking through and understanding the how or why. Why do the hard work of thinking through a problem if I can find an easy answer through an Internet search? It’s no wonder U.S.
kids underperform about half than the developed world in science assessments.
How to Inspire Curiosity
How to Teach Science to Primary School Children
Teaching primary science involves planning and preparation to create an effective, hands-on curriculum. By engaging the kids in interactive projects, you give them the opportunity to explore basic science concepts and relate them to the world. A balance of activities makes the teaching approach more effective for students with different learning styles.
Outline the topics you'll teach the primary school students. Refer to the curriculum guidelines or the primary science textbook if you're using one. List the main topic and the subtopics under each one. Refer to this outline as you plan the specific activities for each topic.
Create a time line for the teaching topics. Determine how much time you need for each chapter. Refer to the school year calendar to pencil in approximate dates for each part of the curriculum.
Write the goals or expected outcomes for each chapter. This will include what the primary students should understand about the concept and what they will do to demonstrate an understanding. It might include completing a particular science task, taking a written test or verbally explaining the concept. Keep these goals in mind as you plan the activities.
Plan an introductory activity for each chapter or concept. A demonstration such as a science experiment or video clip is a good way to pique the interest of the primary students. Conducting a quick prior knowledge assessment such as a KWL chart is another good way to introduce a new chapter.
Choose at least one hands-on activity for the kids for each subtopic. This might include a science experiment, building a 3-D model or creating a science-related art project. The specific subtopic will help plan the specific activity that works well. Create a list of materials needed so you are prepared for the activity when you reach that point in the curriculum.
Select children's books to complement the primary science curriculum. Choose both fiction and nonfiction children's books for variety.
Fill in the science lessons with a mixture of textbook work, paper-and-pencil activities and science games. You can easily customize classic kids' games to fit the science topics you're studying. Games such as Memory, “Jeopardy!” and Bingo work well. This gives the kids an alternative way to practice the science concepts.
Use science journals with the primary students to help them record their observations. There are many uses for science journals. They can draw pictures of science observations, write predictions about science events or answer daily science questions as a warm-up activity.
How to Present Science Lessons to Young Students – American Chemical Society
Let the children know something about you as a person. Was there a special individual or event in your life — a teacher, a learning experience, a book, a visit to a museum — that first aroused your interest in science? What do you most love about chemistry? What do you enjoy about your particular field? Keep in mind that you may be the only chemist the students have ever met!
Explain your work or your field in terms that students will understand. For example, if you are an organic chemist, you might start by first asking students if they know what carbon is. Then explain to them that carbon is an element that is a building block of nature. You are an organic chemist because you work with materials that contain carbon.
Use a demonstration, introductory activity, unexpected event, or story to gain the students’ attention and peak their interest in finding out more.
Center your lesson on a question that students will investigate with you. By the end of your lesson, students should be able to use evidence from their activities to answer the question.
Children love science when it is taught as an extension of their natural curiosity.
Let the children learn by doing
Don’t tell the children what to expect in a demo or hands-on activity. Let them see for themselves and then describe their observations. Encourage them to think about possible explanations for the results. If possible, provide time for the students to test their ideas.
Stimulate thinking by asking questions
Ask questions to help the students make a prediction, give an explanation, state an opinion, or draw a conclusion. Make sure students have enough background so that they can consider the possibilities. You may want to write a list of questions to ask students as you plan your lesson. The best questions require more than a ‘yes’ or ‘no’ answer.
Use language children will understand
Introduce one or two new vocabulary words using simple definitions that relate to a child’s everyday experience. Here are two examples:
- Acids and bases are chemical terms which describe substances that are a part of your everyday life. Lemons, oranges, and grapefruit contain acids. Hand soap, dish detergent, and laundry detergent contain bases.
- You can find polymers all around and on you. For example, many of the toys that you play with, including anything plastic, are made of polymers. Many clothes are made from polymers. Your skin, hair, cartilage in your ears and nose, and even your DNA all contain polymers. Polymers are chemical compounds that are made of chains of molecules linked together by chemical bonds.
Ask for an evaluation of your efforts
Read "Science Teaching Reconsidered: A Handbook" at NAP.edu
individually accountable ways (Stover et al., 1993). The interaction itself can take different forms:
- out-of-class study groups
- in-class discussion groups
- project groups (in and/or out of class)
- groups in which roles (leader, timekeeper, technician, spokesperson, and so forth) are assigned and rotated
Although cooperative learning has been used effectively in elementary, middle, and high schools for a number of years, as discussed by Johnson and Johnson (1989) and Slavin (1989), few studies have been done to demonstrate its effectiveness in the college classroom.
Nevertheless, a growing number of practitioners are assessing its effectiveness (Treisman and Fullilove, 1990; Johnson et al., 1991; Smith et al., 1991; Caprio, 1993; Posner and Markstein, 1994; Cooper, 1995; Watson and Marshall, 1995).
While many advocates of collaborative learning are quick to point out its advantages, they are also sensitive to its perceived problems.
Cooper (1995), for example, points out that coverage, lack of control during class, and students who do not carry their weight in a group, need to be considered before embarking on collaborative learning. In addition, the evaluation of group work requires careful consideration (see Chapter 6).
It is hard to imagine learning to do science, or learning about science, without doing laboratory or field work. Experimentation underlies all scientific knowledge and understanding.
Laboratories are wonderful settings for teaching and learning science. They provide students with opportunities to think about, discuss, and solve real problems.
Developing and teaching an effective laboratory requires as much skill, creativity, and hard work as proposing and executing a first-rate research project.
Despite the importance of experimentation in science, introductory labs fail to convey the excitement of discovery to the majority of our students. They generally give introductory science labs low marks, often describing them as boring or a waste of time. What is wrong? It is clear that many introductory laboratory programs are suffering from neglect.
Typically, students work their way through a list of step-by-step instructions, trying to reproduce expected results and wondering how to get the right answer. While this approach has little do with science, it is common practice because it is efficient.
Laboratories are costly and time consuming, and predictable, “cookbook” labs allow departments to offer their lab courses to large numbers of students.
Improving undergraduate laboratory instruction has become a priority in many institutions, driven, in part, by the exciting program being developed at a wide range of institutions.
Some labs encourage critical and quantitative thinking, some emphasize demonstration of principles or development of lab techniques, and some help students deepen their understanding of fundamental concepts (Hake, 1992).
Where possible, the lab should be coincident with the lecture or discussion. Before you begin to develop a
We are all teachers now: resources for parents and kids cooped up at home
More than 861 million children are learning from home now, as schools globally shutter to try and slow the spread of Covid-19.
Parents are all teachers now. A Quartz team made up of education reporters, former teachers, and parents have compiled useful resources to help parents navigate this transition.
They are neither comprehensive nor meant to replace the learning your kids’ schools are trying to put in place.
They are things to use to augment school assignments and help fill the other hours in ways that that you, and hopefully your kids, can feel good about.
We all know there are special challenges to every age, but high schools kids can direct their own learning, and younger kids need socialization and less focus on academics. Much of this guide is focused on elementary (primary) school children, ages five to 12. But there’s a special chapter for 0-3 and some links for older kids too.
Here are the basics: make a schedule—we need to create order when there is none—forgive yourself when you realize you are a terrible teacher (and then send a note to your teacher expressing appreciation), recognize that kids will be on screens way more than anyone wants, and keep an eye on their well-being and yours.
In many cases, the goal is not to make sure they stay exactly on target (or to scramble to catch up if they are behind), but to give them routines, make sure there is variety in the day—outdoors! cook! read! play games! socialize in safe social distancing ways! and provide comforting continuity.
There will be days when they binge-watch The Magic School Bus (words you never thought you would see together) or The Great British Bake-Off (again). Older kids will waste time, obsess over friendships and connecting, and discover that they can do a whole day’s work in three hours.
Give yourself, and your children, a break.
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