Opportunities to investigate physical, life and earth science are everywhere. You don’t have to live on a farm or visit a zoo to see living things. Looking carefully can reveal a variety of insects, mammals, birds and plants in almost every yard or park. How many different kinds of flowering plants or leaves can we see? What evidence do we find that tells us animals have been here? Seasonal changes in plants and vegetation can be documented through drawings in a notebook or through a cell phone’s camera. Check out some of these great ideas for exploring backyard science or science in the park.
Breezes: We know that children at these ages are all about using their senses and building basic vocabulary. As you walk or sit in a park, describe whatever evidence you have of the effects of the wind with statements like “Look how the tree’s branches are moving in the wind!” or “I see your hair blowing—is mine?” You can also work with your child to create your own “wind” by blowing on a dandelion flower that’s gone to seed or a pinwheel you’ve brought along for the occasion.
Plant textures: Build the language of texture and other physical properties by looking at, feeling and smelling a variety of plants—being certain to stay away from poison ivy, oak, and sumac if they grow in your area! Pine needles and pine cones have rough, pointy, prickly surfaces. Tree bark can also be rough, but the bark of some trees is very smooth. Many leaves are soft on one side and rougher on another, and each smells different too. Spend as much time as possible describing all of these sights, smells and textures!
Bubbles: Everyone loves bubbles—but what does this fact have to do with science in the backyard or park? First of all, making bubbles indoors can be messy, so making them outdoors means easier cleanup. It also means you can watch the effects of the wind as you follow the bubbles through the air. As you or your child blow the bubbles, wonder aloud about their path and speed by making comments such as, “I wonder where these bubbles will go?”, “Look at how quickly the bubbles float toward the tree!” Maybe you and your child can try the Bubble Stuff activity from Curious George or make big fun with bubble wands.