When children and teachers are just getting used to being at school and with each other, open-ended experiences can help bring joy to what may be a stressful time. Simple science experiences involve open exploration and build foundations for later science inquiries into natural phenomena, such as, weather events or organism life cycles. Here are a few ideas to use early in fall or in the school year. Each one has a link to an earlier blog post with further exploration suggestions.
Playing with water is relaxing as long as there are systems in place to keep it safe and easy to clean up. Children will be exploring the properties of matter and concepts of buoyancy, capacity and absorption as they pour from one cup to another, play with objects that float or sink, and use towels to soak up spills. Plastic tubs of various sizes or sensory tables do not have to be filled to the brim to engage children! Vary the temperature to introduce the concept of relative measurement—ask children if they think the water is warmer or colder than yesterday.
Freeze water in large tubs and put the resulting ice in a tub on a table where children can feel the large block of ice and observe any changes. Provide magnifiers for close up observation of the ice.
Make a worm-digging spot in the play area where children can sit out-of-the-way but visible as they dig for worms in soil. Provide large soup spoons for digging because they are a better fit for small hands than most garden trowels. Discuss how deep they will have to go and what else might live in the soil.
Make a “home” for worms in a “worm box.” Ask children how they plan to care for the worms they want to keep and what they need to implement their plans. Provide drawing materials so children can make portraits of “their worm.”
Take group “nature walks” around the play area, school building, or block to stretch your legs and have children point out plants and animals that interest them. Make your walk a “sound walk” by stopping periodically so everyone can hold their hands up to their ears to listen and share what they hear. Alternatively hold a “sound moment” if an entire walk is too long for your children.
Using leaves gathered on your walk, put them on newspaper or a tray and have children paint one side of them. Then take a plain sheet of paper, put it on top of the painted leaf, and press it down onto the leaf to make a print. Life the paper off to reveal the print. Ask children to describe the leaf structures revealed by the print, if any.
Begin the “question of the day/week” practice to support children’s developing understanding of investigating a question. Post and discuss questions you have heard children ask that you think they might be able to answer, such as, “What is your favorite kind of animal,” or “How can I make a block structure that is stable and doesn’t fall over?”
As children engage in fun open-ended experiences they encounter interesting phenomena that raise questions. Use those questions to begin investigations that can develop into science inquiry.