Introducing Science to Toddlers
If you are trying to figure out what science is for students who are still toddlers, we have some good news for you. Science comes most naturally to toddlers as they are basically conducting experiments all the time, albeit without realising. Feeling different textures, rolling a ball, playing with toys in the bathtub are all little ways by which they explore and learn about the environment around them. If you are wondering how to teach kids science, you should know that there is no fixed way on how science should be taught but we have a few simple ways for you to arouse their curiosity and develop an interest.
Let your Child Decide
Some skills and interests come naturally to a toddler and allow them to lead with that. They will try to fit a shape into the correct stencil or try to do a puzzle or balance blocks and it is important to allow them to figure it out on their own. Of course, you should be there to support them so that they don’t get frustrated or do anything that is unsafe.
Talk to Them About Science
You can casually incorporate science for children while talking to them as they play or go about their routine. Bath time is the ideal time to show them that some objects sink and some float. You can ask them questions which encourage them to think and understand, like asking them to think why one toy floated and the other sank.
How science should be taught is by responding to their questions with a question rather than just giving them the answer. If they wonder why something happens, offer to investigate it together rather than just explaining it to them. This develops a deeper understanding of basic science concepts as they are the ones trying to figure out the answers.
Introduce them to a simplified scientific method. Talk to them about observing something, make a prediction about its outcome and then check on what they are observing. The concept of gravity can be introduced by asking them to consider whether a rock or a feather will hit the ground first on being dropped from a height. Ask them to make a prediction and then test it for themselves.
Teach them new vocabulary about science. Don’t oversimplify the terms and whenever you’re doing experiments or introducing a new concept, use the proper terms so that they can learn them. Use the proper terms like ’photosynthesis’ when talking about how chlorophyll turns sunlight into energy.
Avoid forcing scientific concepts or lecturing on preschoolers as they will probably lose interest. Instead, encourage their curiosity. For example, instead of directing a child on how to use a tool, let them figure it out for themselves. More often than not, their natural curiosity will help them find the answers.
A walk in the garden or neighbourhood opens up various avenues for your toddler to be introduced to basic science concepts. Let them run around and see what it is that interests them. A walk outside gives you an opportunity to talk about the animals and plants they see and what the weather is like. Encourage them to touch stones and leaves and rocks, listen to the animal sounds and talk about their experiences. Ask them to describe the weather, the colours of the flowers and leaves and why they are different. You can give them seeds so they can plant them and see and learn how things grow. This helps them to develop an interest in nature which lays the foundation for basic science concepts.
You can introduce the concept of different sizes, shapes and textures by giving them different rocks, shells and leaves so that they can feel and explore them. You can also do this with different kinds of food — are they sweet or sour, soft or hard. Talk to them about why they are similar or different as that encourages curiosity.
Toddlers also enjoy field trips like a children’s museum or science centre to learn about interesting exhibits. Other options are a planetarium that caters to younger children, the local library or scientific exhibitions and workshops for preschoolers.
Even a trip to the grocery store can teach them scientific concepts. You could talk about where milk comes from or why some products are labelled as ‘organic’.
Give them some scientific tools like a magnifying glass, scales, rulers and binoculars and spark their imagination by allowing them to figure out how to use them and examine the world around them.
Encourage kids to record their observations by drawing pictures of things they observe and track changes. You could also get them a cheap, disposable camera to take pictures of the changes they see.
Participate in the Learning
Get into the habit of not giving all the answers and encourage your child to find them out for themselves. Instead support them by participating in the learning. Let them observe what happens when different colours are mixed together. If you don’t know the answer to a question, write it down and later try to find out the answer together.
Teach Through Play and Experiments
Science for children can be taught through scientific play and experiments as they are very good learning tools provided you take the necessary precautions. Make sure they are wearing protective smocks and goggles when doing experiments. Caution them not to put parts in their mouths or touch their faces when using the materials. Always monitor them and instruct them on how to use things like scissors, tweezers or thermometers safely. Also, the experiments should be appropriate to the child’s age.
Common kitchen items like baking soda, baking powder and vinegar are great for simple experiments like stretchy slime or erupting volcanoes. Baking is another good option for children to observe what happens when dough is put in a hot oven or what happens to water in the freezer.
Building blocks, Legos, dominoes or foam pieces are a good way to introduce the concepts of physics. They can stack them and design structures. Ask the preschoolers to build the tallest or sturdiest structure they can.
Create a scientific library with comfortable seating for them and fill their bookshelves with picture books, encyclopaedias and books about a variety of scientific topics. These books could be on plants, animals, biology, planets, weather or any other topic they are interested in.
Science is all around us and toddlers are continuously learning basic science concepts without even realising. We hope these activities have helped you understand how to teach kids science so that their curiosity and interest is aroused. The EuroKids website will also help you with a lot more ideas and activities that your toddler is sure to enjoy.