With schools (and childcare) across the nation currently closed, many parents may be wondering how to entertain children that are now at home all day long. You want to give them something fun to do, but with an educational element included as well. One way to do this is to create science experiments and projects that get the children outdoors.
Garden Science for Children: Adaptions
Using gardens to teach science is super easy, and the great thing about nature related experiments and science projects is that children of all ages, and even most adults, find these activities entertaining and enjoy completing a project to see what the results will be. Most are easily adaptable for a majority of age groups too.
Even the youngest scientist can enjoy getting outside and involved in nature related experiments. For younger children, like toddlers, simply explain to them what you are doing, what you hope to achieve or why, and let them help if and when possible. This age is very observant and will enjoy simply watching, most likely in awe and fascination, as the activity is carried out. Afterwards, you can have your child tell you something about what they just saw.
For preschool to younger school-aged children, you can explain to them what you are going to do. Have a discussion and let them tell you what the goal of the project will be and what they predict will happen. They may be able to get more hands-on with the project at this age. Afterwards, have another discussion where they share with you in their own words the results and if their predictions were right.
Older children may very well be able to complete these experiments with little to no adult help, but you should always supervise for safety measures. These children can write down their predictions for the project or what they hope to accomplish by completing it, and what the outcome was. They can also explain to you how the project correlates to nature.
Science Activities for Kids to Try
Below are a few simple science experiment and project ideas to get children outdoors in nature and using their minds. Of course, this is by no means a complete list of what you can do. Ideas are plentiful. Just ask a local teacher or search the internet. Children may even be able to come up with their own ideas to try.
This creature is definitely one that you will find outdoors, and even indoors sometimes on occasion. Although ants can be a nuisance, the way they work together to build their colonies is both fascinating and entertaining to watch.
Creating a DIY ant farm can achieve just that. All you need is a mason/plastic jar with small holes in the lid. You will also need a brown paper bag.
- Walk around until you find a nearby anthill.
- Scoop the anthill into the jar and immediately put in the paper bag and close.
- After 24 hours, the ants will have created tunnels and built back their home, which you will now be able to see through the jar.
- You can keep your anthill thriving by adding crumbs and a moist sponge on top of the dirt.
- Always put back in the paper bag when you are not observing the ants.
Another interesting experiment to try with ants is learning how to attract or repel them. For this simple activity, all you need is two paper plates, some salt, and some sugar.
- Sprinkle salt onto one plate and sugar onto the other.
- Then, find two places around the garden to place the plates.
- Every so often check on them.
- The one with sugar will become covered in ants, while the one with salt will remain untouched.
You may have heard of changing the color of celery by putting the stalk in different colored water. It’s usually a popular activity done in school at some point. You simply take a celery stalk, or several, with leaves and place them into cups of colored water (food coloring). Observe the stalks after several hours, 24 hours, and again at 48 hours.
The leaves should turn the color of the water each stalk is in. You can also cut off the bottom of the stalk and see where the stalk absorbed the water. This shows the process of how plants soak up water, or osmosis. This project can also be done using white flowers, such as daisy or white clover. The white petals will turn the color of which they are placed in.
Children learn by using their senses. What better way to explore those senses than in the garden? A fun idea to use is send your child on a five senses nature scavenger hunt. This can be adapted to fit the needs particular to your garden or outdoor area or edited however you please. Children may even come up with their own ideas to search for.
Children are given a checklist of items to find under each category. For younger children, you may need to call out or list items to them one at a time. A general idea of things to search for include:
- Sight – something with a certain color, shape, size, or pattern or multiples of an object such as five different rocks or three identical flowers
- Sound – an animal sound, something loud, quiet, or something you can make music with
- Smell – a flower or food with a scent, a good smell, a bad smell
- Touch – try to find different textures such as smooth, bumpy, hard, soft, etc.
- Taste – something we could eat and something an animal would eat, or things with different flavors such as sweet, spicy, sour, etc.
How does a leaf breathe? That’s what this simple photosynthesis experiment allows children to actually see and allows them to think of plants as living, breathing organisms. All you need is a bowl of water and a freshly picked leaf.
- Place the leaf in the bowl of water and place a rock on top to fully submerge it.
- Place in a sunny location and wait several hours.
- When you come back to check on it, you should see bubbles coming from the leaf. This is similar to the act of one holding their breath, going under water, and releasing that breath.
Other Garden Related Science Lessons
A few other ideas for gardening themed science activities for children include:
- Placing carrot tops in water and observing what happens
- Teaching about composting
- Observing the life cycle of a butterfly, beginning with the caterpillar
- Growing flowers to study the life cycle of plants
- Learning about garden helpers by creating a worm habitat
A simple online search will provide more information to use as part of your learning discussion, books and songs relating to the topic, as well as expansions for more learning with other project related activities.