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.
What can we find?: There are very interesting little critters—worms, centipedes, ants, pill bugs (aka sow bugs or “roly-polies”) under rocks, leaves, pieces of wood and in rotting logs. Look around with your child for likely places to find these animals; once you’ve located some, pay some attention to how they move or their various body parts. The important science ideas here are about structures and needs of these living things, not just identifying them by name. So, wondering aloud with statements like “I wonder how that bug’s shell helps it,” or “I wonder what the ant finds to eat here” helps your child to think more about these big ideas.
Digging: A hand trowel, rigid plastic shovel, or even a plastic spoon all can be used to dig. And besides being fun, digging can tell us about the kind of soil and rocks in a given location. Digging can also help us find things that live under the surface. Find your child a spot where the soil is not too compact, where others won’t mind if there’s a hole and begin with a challenge like, “I wonder how easy it will be to dig a small hole right here?” or “I wonder what we’ll find when we dig.” Sid the Science Kid’s Dirt Detectives activity fits right in with this exploration!
Trees: Trees come in many shapes and sizes, they have very interesting life cycles, and they serve as habitats for other living things like insects, squirrels and birds. Find a tree that is small enough for you and your child to investigate up close. Begin to look for evidence of other living things (“I wonder if we can find signs that another living creature has been here recently?”) If you do find some evidence, such as parts of a leaf that appear to have been eaten, or holes that might be someone’s home, suggest that you try to look more carefully to find the animal that might be responsible. These kinds of observations provide evidence that a tree, while a living organism in its own regard, also can serve as another living thing’s habitat. Visit the same tree a number of times over the course of a year to make note of the changes it goes through—use a camera to document these changes.