Helping Your Child Learn Science
With activities for children in preschool through age 5

PDF (1 MB)

en Español

Science in the Home — Activities

Your home is a great place for you to begin to explore science with your child. Incorporating science activities and language into familiar routines will show your child how science works in his everyday life and provide him with a safe environment in which to explore and experiment.

On This Page

    A Science Walk
    Breaking the Tension
    Float or Sink?
    Slime Time
    Celery Stalks at Midnight  
    Icky Sticky Stuff
    Splish Splash
    Hair-Raising Results
    Let 'Em Make Cake!

A Science Walk

Observing closely is an important part of science, and tools such as a magnifying glass help scientists—even young ones—to observe, measure and do things that they otherwise could not do.

Even a walk around the yard can provide many opportunities to introduce children to scientific concepts and processes by helping them to gain the scientific habit of observing what's around them.

What You Need

  • A magnifying glass
  • Science journal

What to Do

  • Take a walk outside with your child—around the yard, to the end of the block, in the park—anywhere that's convenient. Invite her to bring along her science journal and show her how to use a magnifying glass. As you walk, stop and—depending on the season—ask her to use the lens to examine things such as the following:

    • dirt
    • leaves (from the same tree, one on the ground and one on the tree)
    • a flower
    • snowflakes
    • icicles
    • bugs
    • a mud puddle
    • a rock

  • Ask her to talk about what she observes. Ask, for example:

    • What's on each side of this leaf?
    • How is this leaf on the ground different from the one on the tree?
    • Are all the petals on this flower the same size and color?
    • Are these snowflakes exactly alike? How are they different?
    • How many legs does this bug have?
    • How many colors can you see in this mud puddle?

  • Other questions you might ask as she observes and examines things along the way include the following:

    • Is it smooth or rough?
    • Is it hard or soft?
    • Is it dry or wet?
    • Is it alive? How do you know?
    • What shape is it?

  • Give your child two different kinds of rocks or flowers and ask her to tell you how they are alike and different.

  • Make sure she records her observations, reactions, findings and opinions in her science journal. Drawing pictures and taking photos are good ways to record observations, and you can help her to write appropriate captions. Encourage her to share her journal with others and to talk about her experiences.

Top Top

Breaking the Tension

Surface tension results when the hydrogen in water molecules stick to one another as well as to the water below them. This creates a strong but flexible film on the water's surface. The detergent disrupts the molecules and "breaks the tension," making the boat go forward and the pepper move to the sides of the glass.

These simple activities demonstrate surface tension.

What You Need

  • Index card
  • Safety scissors
  • Sink filled with water
  • Glass half filled with water
  • Liquid dishwashing detergent
  • Ground pepper < !!! >
  • Toothpicks

What to Do

  • From an index card, cut out a boat shape, like the one on this page. Make the boat about 2-1/2 inches long and 1-1/2 inches wide. Have your child place the boat gently on the water in the sink. Have him pour a little detergent at the notch end of the boat. Ask him to describe what happens. (Note: To repeat this experiment, you'll need to use fresh water to make the boat move.)

  • Next, sprinkle a little ground pepper on the water in the glass. Give your child a toothpick and tell him to dip it in the middle of the pepper. Ask him what happens. Then tell him to put a drop of the detergent on another toothpick and dip it into the pepper. Now what happens?

Top Top


Bubbles are bits of air or gas trapped inside a liquid ball. The surface of a bubble is very thin. Bubbles are particularly fragile when a dry object touches them. That's because soap film tends to stick to the object, which puts a strain on the bubble.

Children can learn more about surface tension and about change just by blowing bubbles!

What You Need

  • 8 tablespoons of dishwashing liquid
  • 1 quart water
  • 1 drinking straw
  • A shallow pan

What to Do

  • Mix the dishwashing liquid with the water and pour it into the pan. Give your child a straw and tell him to blow through it as he moves it slowly across the surface of the solution. Ask him to notice the size of the bubbles that he makes.

  • Next, have your child try to make a very big bubble that covers the surface of the pan. Have him do the following:

    • Dip one end of the straw into the solution. Then hold the straw slightly above the surface. Blow into it very gently. He may have to try several times to make a really big bubble.
    • When he's made a bubble, have him touch it gently with a wet finger to see what happens.
    • Have him make another big bubble, then touch it with a dry finger. What happens?

  • Ask him to look closely at the bubbles he makes. How many colors does he see? Do the colors change?

Top Top

Kindergarten–Grade 1

Bugs do what they do to survive. They're constantly looking for food. Bugs can be both helpful and harmful. Termites, for example, have a bad reputation because they destroy houses by eating the wood. But termites have a good side, too. In a forest, they break down dead trees, which keeps the forest floor from becoming too cluttered.

Children can improve their understanding of the natural world and their classification skills by observing bugs.

What You Need

  • Books about insects and spiders—preferably with photographs (for titles, see the list of children's books in the Resources section at the end of this booklet)
  • A magnifying glass

What to Do

  • With your child, search your home and neighborhood for bugs.< !!! > Look for bugs:

    • around your front door
    • in cracks in the sidewalk
    • in gardens
    • at picnic areas
    • on lights
    • in corners of rooms

  • Using the guides, help your child to identify each type of bug that you find, such as ants, spiders, beetles, crickets, bees, flies, butterflies, mosquitoes, moths, wasps or ladybugs.

  • If you find ants, point out that ants work together as a community. Have her observe, for example, what an ant does when it finds a bit of food. Explain that when an ant finds food, it doesn't eat it on the spot. It runs back to the hill to "tell" the other ants. As it runs, it leaves a trail that the other ants can smell. These ants can then find the food by smelling their way along the trail.

  • Find out about spiders:

    • Why do spiders spin webs?
    • What are webs made of?
    • How many pairs of legs do they have?

  • Help your child to think of other ways that she might classify the bugs—for example, by color or by size or by whether they have wings or antennae.

Top Top

Float or Sink?
Kindergarten–Grade 1

The clay and foil balls sink because they are squeezed into small shapes and only a small amount ofwater is trying to hold up the weight.When the clay or foil is spread out, it floats because the weight is supported by a lotmore water.

Learning to make and test predictions is a good first step toward making and testing hypotheses.

What You Need

  • 1 block of solid wood
  • 1 plastic bottle cap
  • 2 pieces of heavy-duty aluminum foil
  • 1 piece of modeling clay
  • Sink filled with water

What to Do

  • Tell your child to hold the wood block in one hand and the plastic cap in the other hand. Ask him to answer the following questions:

    • Which one feels heavier?
    • Do you think the wooden block will float or sink?
    • Will the plastic cap float or sink?

  • Have your child test his predictions by carefully placing the block of wood and the cap on the water. What happens? Next, have him put both under the water. What happens now?

  • Give him a piece of aluminum foil and tell him to squeeze it tightly into solid ball then drop it in the water. Does it float or sink? Give him another piece of foil. Help him to shape it into a little boat, then have him carefully place it on top of the water. Does the foil float now?

  • Help him to try the same experiment with the clay. Have him make ball and drop it in the water. What happens? Then have him shape the clay into a boat and put it on the water. Does it float now?

Top Top

Slime Time
Grades 1–2

Cars, trucks, airplanes and machines all have parts that rub against one another. These parts would heat up,wear down and stop working ifwe didn't have lubricants. Lubricants reduce the amount of friction between two surfaces that move against each other.

When one object moves against another, the result is friction.

What You Need

  • Mixing bowl
  • 4 envelopes of unflavored gelatin
  • Hot water
  • Square baking pan
  • Vegetable oil
  • Liquid dishwashing detergent
  • 2 small bowls
  • Stopwatch or a watch with a second hand
  • Measuring cup

Don't let your child eat the gelatin cubes after they've been handled or after they're covered with lubricant. < !!! >

What to Do

    In a mixing bowl, dissolve the gelatin in two cups of hot tap water. Coat the inside of the pan with vegetable oil. Pour the gelatin mixture into the pan and put it in the refrigerator until firm. Cut the gelatin into cubes about 1 inch x 1 inch. You should have about 64 cubes. Place 15 cubes into one bowl. Place the second bowl about 6 inches (about 15 centimeters) away from the cube bowl.
  • Place the watch so that your child can see it. Tell her that when you say go, you want her to start picking up the gelatin cubes one at a time with her thumb and index finger (caution her not to squeeze them!). Tell her to see how many cubes she can transfer to the other bowl in 15 seconds.

  • Tell your child to put all the cubes back in the first bowl. Pour 1/4 cup dishwashing liquid over the cubes. Gently mix the detergent and the cubes so that the cubes are well-coated. Have her use the same method as before to transfer as many cubes as possible in 15 seconds.

  • Throw away the cubes and detergent and wash and dry both bowls. Put 15 new cubes into one bowl and pour 1/4 cup water over the cubes, again making sure the cubes are thoroughly coated. Tell your child to see how many cubes she can transfer in 15 seconds.

  • Again, throw away the cubes and water. Put 15 new cubes into one bowl. Pour 1/4 cup of vegetable oil over the cubes. Make sure they are well coated. Have her see how many cubes she can transfer in 15 seconds.

  • Ask your child to answer the following questions:

    • With which liquid was she able to transfer the most cubes?
    • With which liquid was she able to transfer the fewest cubes?
    • Which liquid was the best lubricant (the slipperiest)? Which was the worst?

Top Top

Celery Stalks at Midnight
Grades 1–2

Capillary action happens when water molecules are more attracted to the surface they travel along than to each other. In paper towels, the molecules move along tiny fibers. In plants, they move through narrow tubes that are actually called capillaries. Plants couldn't survive without capillaries because they use the water to make their food.

Capillary action is the name for the process that takes place when a paper towel soaks up a spilled liquid or when a plant transfers water from its roots to its leaves.

What You Need

  • 4 same-size stalks of fresh celery with leaves
  • 4 cups of the same size
  • Knife < !!! >
  • Vegetable peeler < !!! >
  • Red and blue food coloring
  • Measuring cup
  • Paper towels
  • Ruler
  • Old newspapers
  • Water

What to Do

  • Lay the four stalks of celery in a row on a cutting board or counter so that the place where the stalks and the leaves meet matches. Cut all four stalks of celery 4 inches (about 10 centimeters) below where the stalks and leaves meet.

  • Use 10 drops of red and 10 drops of blue food coloring for each 1/2 cup of water to make purple water. Pour the colored water in equal parts into the four cups. Have your child put one stalk each in the cups of purple water.

  • Label four sheets of paper towels: "2 hours," "4 hours," "6 hours," and "8 hours." (You may want to put newspapers under the towels.) Every two hours, have him remove one of the stalks and put it on the correct towel.

  • Each time he removes a stalk from the water, help him to carefully peel the rounded part with a vegetable peeler to see how far up the stalk the purple water has traveled.

  • Help your child to measure the distance the purple water has traveled for each stalk and record the information in his science journal. Talk with him about what he has observed.

  • Work with your child to make a list of other objects around the house or in nature that illustrate capillary action. Have him look for paper towels, sponges, old sweat socks, brown paper bags and flowers.

Top Top

Icky Sticky Stuff
Grades 2–3

What makes glue, paste or tape stick to things? Wood, paper and many other materials have tiny cracks and holes in them. When we glue things together, sometimes the glue seeps into the tiny openings and hardens,making the materials stick together. Other times, the molecules on the surface of an object get tangled up with the glue molecules,making the objects stick together.

Adhesives are used to stick things together. Many adhesives occur in nature and have important uses for plants and animals.

What You Need

  • Flour
  • Measuring cup
  • Egg white < !!! >
  • Food coloring
  • 4 small bowls
  • 4 plastic spoons
  • Aluminum foil
  • Cotton balls
  • Toothpicks
  • Small pieces of cloth
  • Glitter
  • Safety scissors
  • Colored yarn or ribbon
  • Colored paper

What to Do

  • Help your child to search your home to track down everything that she can that is sticky. See how many of the following she can find:

    • Tape
    • Peanut butter
    • Postage stamps
    • Envelopes
    • Honey
    • A decal on a t-shirt
    • Spackle
    • An adhesive bandage

  • Ask your child to make a list of things in nature—animals, plants and so forth—that have adhesive properties or are sticky. For example:

    • Spiders that use sticky threads to create webs to catch their food
    • Tree sap
    • Barnacles that stick to boats, ships and rocks

  • Next, ask her to think of adhesives that are used in hospitals? in offices? in auto repair shops?

  • Help your child to make a poster or collage using adhesives by doing the following:

    • Make three bowls of flour-and-water paste. In each bowl, add 1/4 cup water to 1/2 cup flour and mix until smooth. Add a different-colored food coloring to each of the three bowls and mix. Use the pastes to make colored shapes on a poster board or heavy paper.
    • Crack open an egg and separate the white into a bowl. Use the white as a clear glue to attach aluminum foil, cotton balls, toothpicks, cloth, glitter, ribbon, yarn and colored paper—whatever works to create a collage.

Top Top

Splish Splash
Grades 2–3

Water and other liquids take the shape of whatever container they're in. Containers of certain sizes have names—cup, pint, quart, liter or gallon, for example. This activity provides an introduction to volume and measurement.

This activity introduces children to the scientific concepts of volume and measurement.

What You Need

  • Measuring spoons and cups of different sizes
  • Milk containers of different sizes—e.g., pint, quart, half-gallon and gallon (or 1/2 liter, 1 liter, 2 liter and 4 liter)
  • Funnel
  • 2 containers that hold the same amount but have different shapes—e.g., one tall and thin, one short and squat (try a 1-quart pitcher and the same-sized storage bowl)
  • 1 sink filled with water

What to Do

  • Have your child fill a quart-sized container with water. Then help him to use the funnel to pour the water into a gallon-sized container. Ask him to observe how many small containers it takes to fill the larger one.

  • Continue by having him use the different measuring devices to answer question such as the following:

    • How many tablespoons does it take to make half a cup?
    • How many cups does it take to make a quart?
    • How many pints make a gallon?

  • Set the short squat container next to the tall thin one. Ask your child to predict whether one container will hold more water than the other. Let him fill the short squat container with a given amount of water—for example, four cups if you're using quart containers. Then have him pour this water into the tall thin container. Was his prediction correct? Ask him why he thinks both containers held the same amount.

Top Top

Hair-Raising Results
Grades 3 and up

All materials contain millions of tiny particles, called protons and electrons, that have electric charges. Protons have positive charges, and electrons negative ones. Usually, they balance each other, but sometimes when two surfaces rub together, some of the electrons rub off one surface onto the other, and we can have static electricity. Materials with like charges (all positive or all negative) move away from each other; those with opposite charges attract each other.

Here are some great hands-on ways to learn about static electricity.

What You Need

  • A cool dry day
  • 2 round balloons (inflated and tied)
  • 2 20-inch pieces of string
  • Wool or acrylic sock
  • Mirror

What to Do

  • Have your child tie a string to each inflated balloon. Then tell her to rub a balloon on her hair for about 15 seconds—help her to rub around the whole balloon. Have her take the balloon away and see what happens to her hair! Then have her observe what happens when she brings the balloon back close to her hair.

  • Next, stand a few feet away from and facing your child. Have her rub the balloon on her hair again as you do the same with the other balloon. Tell her to hold the string to her balloon, letting it hang freely but without letting it touch anything. (You do the same with your balloon.) Slowly move the two balloons toward each other, but don't let them touch. Have your child tell you what's happening: Do the balloons push away from each other, or do they pull toward each other? Have her place her hand between the two hanging balloons. What happens?

  • Give your child a sock to place over one hand. Tell her to rub her balloon with the sock, then let the balloon hang freely. Have her move her sock-covered hand near the balloon. What happens? Have her try rubbing both balloons with the sock and then letting them hang near each other. What happens now?

Top Top

Grades 3 and up

Photosynthesis means to "put together using light." Plants use sunlight to turn carbon dioxide from the air and water into food. When the plant gets enough food, it produces a simple sugar, which it uses immediately or stores in a converted form of starch. We don't know exactly how this happens. Butwe do know that chlorophyll, the green substance in plants, helps it to occur.

A few seeds and household plants can teach children about cause and effect and change.

What You Need

  • Household plants
  • Plant fertilizer < !!! >
  • Paper
  • Safety scissors
  • A magnifying glass
  • Seeds
  • Permanent markers: green, red, blue, black
  • Paper towels
  • Water
  • Sandwich bags (without zip locks)

What to Do

  • With your child, take two clippings from one houseplant. Have him put one clipping in a glass of water and the other clipping in a glass without water. Tell him to check each day to observe and record how long the one without water can survive.

  • Have your child water all of the plants for several weeks. In addition, have him choose one or two of the plants to fertilize during this time. Have him label the plants to be fertilized. Tell him to record the following in his science journal:

    • Did any of the plants start to droop?
    • Did any of the plants have yellow leaves that fell off?
    • Did any of the plants grow toward the light?

  • Next, have your child observe what happens when a plant (or part of plant) doesn't get any light. Help him to do the following:

    • Cut out three pieces of paper, each about 2 inches x 2 inches in size.
    • Clip the pieces to different leaves of a plant, preferably one that has large leaves.
    • Leave one piece of paper on a leaf for one day, a second for two days and a third for a week.
    Ask your child to record how long it takes for the plant to react and how long it takes for the plant to return to normal once the paper is removed.

  • To show your child how seeds germinate, have him divide some seeds of the same kind into four equal batches. Tell him to spread each batch of seeds on a wet paper towel folded into quarters, and then put each batch into a separate sandwich bag. Give him the markers and tell him to color one bag red, one green, one yellow and one black. Have him put the bags in the sun for a week. Tell him to check each day to make sure the paper towels are still wet.

    After a week, have him examine the bags. Ask him which color light was the best for seed germination.

    Ask your child to explore what other things can make seeds germinate faster. Have him, for example, put a little soapy water on one batch of seeds and clear water on another.

Top Top

Grades 4 and 5

When certain liquids and gases cool and lose water, crystals are formed. Crystals are made up of molecules that fit neatly together in an orderly package. All crystals of the same material have the same shape, regardless of their size.

A crystal is a special kind of solid. Growing crystals introduces children to change and variation.

What You Need

  • A magnifying glass
  • Table salt
  • Epsom salt
  • Honey container
  • Measuring cups and spoons
  • Paper cut into circles
  • Safety scissors
  • Pencil

What to Do

  • Help your child to use a magnifying glass to look for crystals. Inspect the table salt, Epsom salt and honey container (particularly if it has been open for awhile). Ask your child to draw pictures in her journal of what she observes. Do all of the crystals look the same? If not, how are they different?

  • Have your child try dissolving salt crystals and forming new ones. Help her to do the following:

    • Dissolve 1 teaspoon of salt in 1 cup of water.
    • Heat the mixture over low heat to evaporate the water. < !!! >
    What's left? What shape are these crystals?

  • Snowflakes are made of ice crystals. They're beautiful, but hard to see clearly. Making paper snowflakes will give your child an idea of what snowflakes look like. Have her:

    • Take a circle of paper (use thin paper) and fold it in half.
    • Fan-fold it.
    • Make cuts along all the edges.
    • Unfold them.

Top Top

Let 'Em Make Cake!
All ages

Here are some chemical reactions that occur as a cake bakes:
— Heat helps baking powder produce tiny bubbles of gas, which makes the cake light and fluffy ( leavening).
— Heat causes protein from the egg to change and make the cake firm.
— Oil keeps the heat from drying out the cake.

Making cakes is an enjoyable way to help children of all ages learn about chemical reactions and change.

What You Need

  • 3 small bowls
  • Several sheets of aluminum foil
  • Pie pan
  • Cooking oil
  • Measuring spoons
  • Ingredients for one cake: (You'll need to measure and mix this set of ingredients four times—with the exceptions that are given below.)
    • 6 tablespoons flour
    • 3 tablespoons sugar
    • 1 pinch of salt
    • 2 or 3 pinches of baking powder
    • 2 tablespoons milk
    • 2 tablespoons cooking oil
    • 1/4 teaspoon vanilla
    • Part of an egg (Break egg into a cup; beat until mixed. Use 1/3 of it. Save the rest for 2 of the other cakes.) < !!! >

What to Do

  • With your child do the following:

    • Wrap several sheets of aluminum foil around the outside of a small bowl to form a mold.
    • Remove your foil "pan" and put it in a pie pan for support.
    • Oil the "inside" of the foil pan with cooking oil so the cake doesn't stick.
    • Turn the oven on to 350 degrees. < !!! >
    • Mix all of the dry ingredients together.
    • Add the wet ones (only use 1/3 of the egg; save the rest for later use).
    • Stir the ingredients until smooth and all the same color.
    • Pour batter into the "pan."
    • Bake for 15 minutes.

  • Help your child to make three more cakes, but tell him to do the following:

    • Leave the oil out of one.
    • Leave the egg out of another.
    • Leave the baking powder out of the third.

  • After baking, have him cut each cake in half and look inside.

    • Do the cakes look different from each other?
    • Do they taste different from each other?

  • Tell your child to write about, or draw pictures of, what he observes.

Top Top

    Previous set of pages  7 | 8 | 9 Next set of pages TOC
Last Modified: 03/01/2023