At-Home Activities to Promote Science Learning

Parents can encourage and nurture their children’s natural curiosity by letting them manipulate, test and observe – the same methods used by scientists. Hands-on experiences, home experiments, "science" activities and trips to local educational institutions can make science interesting and accessible even to toddlers.

If you feel uncomfortable "teaching" science, or worry that you don’t know enough, relax. What you already know is a valuable resource – although you may not remember every detail about a specific science topic, you actually know more than you think. Then, later, when you reach the limit of your knowledge, look to outside sources for more information. Inevitably, you will arrive at a question for which there are not yet answers – answers which will one day be found by the future scientist you may be raising today.

At-Home Discoveries

  • Colors

  • Kitchen Chemicals

  • Magnets

  • Seeds and Plants

    Outdoor Explorations

  • Nutrition

  • Weather

  • Astronomy

  • Ecology

  • Oceanography

  • Hobbies


    At-Home Discoveries

    Here are some fun experiments that involve basic "scientific" principles waiting to be discovered. Let each family member ask questions and work at his or her own ability level.


    Have your child combine different colors (use playdough, watercolor paints or an eye dropper full of food coloring mixed in water). Start with red, blue and yellow.

    If this approach is too familiar for your child, try either of the following experiments that demonstrate the same principle in new ways:

  • Fill a glass jar three-fourths full with water. Then pour in a thin layer of cooking oil. Add a drop each of two different colors (food coloring). The drops of food coloring will slowly fall through the oil layer and "explode" into the water below. Watch the two colors mix and form a new secondary color. Fill with clean water and repeat with two other colors.

  • Fill a pie pan or bowl with whole milk (1-percent or 2-percent milk gives less-dramatic results). Place a drop of blue, red and yellow food coloring into the milk but don’t let them touch. Add one or two drops of liquid dish soap and watch the "magic mixing" take place. As the soap dissolves in the milk and interacts with the milk fat, the colors are pushed toward each other and mix.

    Questions: What happens when the same amounts are mixed? How do you "make" green, orange or purple? What happens when you mix all three? What happens if you mix unequal amounts?

    Project: Use the new colors to paint a picture, or create a sculpture by mixing different colors of play dough.


    Kitchen Chemicals

    Offer your child various "chemicals" – sugar, salt, flour, baking soda, oil, vinegar, milk and ground coffee – from the kitchen and have her mix them in water to observe what happens.

    Questions: What mixes? What dissolves? What does not mix or dissolve? Can you "find" the sugar water and salt water by tasting the two? How much sugar can you add to a small cup of water? How much sugar can you add to ice water or to warm water? After a week, what happens to a bowl of sugar water – use a "super sweet" (saturated) solution.

    Project: Make a glass of lemonade, Kool-Aid®, or oil-and-vinegar salad dressing.



    Give your child an assortment of small magnets (use refrigerator magnets or toy pieces such as Brio® trains) plus magnetic and non-magnetic objects (paper clips, washers, pennies, jewelry, toothpicks and marbles).

    Questions: What happens when two magnets touch? Which objects do the magnets attract? Do some magnets pick up more paper clips than others?

    Project: Attach a picture of your child, family member or pet to the front of a magnet and place it on the refrigerator.


    Seeds and Plants

    Have your child grow a small plant using a seed (or a plant cutting, dried navy bean, acorn, narcissus bulb, carrot or pineapple top). Put the seed into a clear glass or jar. Fold a paper towel into the container so the seed is two inches above the bottom and pressed against the side. Use several seeds to ensure that some will sprout. Fill the jar with a half-inch of water to keep the paper towel moistened.

    To grow bulbs or vegetable tops, place them in a shallow dish of water. After they have grown, cut the plants to see their inner parts.

    Questions: What parts of the plant can we see? What do the roots do? The stem? The leaves? How long does it take for this plant to grow? What do the insides of this seedling look like?

    Project: Plant a garden (inside or out) using bean, sunflower and marigold seeds, or crocus and narcissus bulbs.


    Outdoor Explorations

    Science is all around us. Even busy moms and dads can initiate a science discussion if they recognize the many opportunities that exist in our daily lives. So "talk" science!

  • Nutrition – At the grocery store, talk about good food choices and the food pyramid. Find various items in the grocery cart that compose the pyramid. Explain vitamins, protein, energy and fat to your child. At home, make a large food pyramid and glue pictures of the different foods cut out of magazines or coupons. (Cereal and pasta boxes often show the food pyramid.)

  • Weather – Talk about the weather, the seasons and how to dress for the temperature outside. Learn the names of some types of common clouds, measure the amount of rain in an empty wide-mouthed jar, or measure the height of the new snowfall with a ruler. Older children may like tracking the local weather forecast on news broadcasts or on newspaper weather maps. Explain that weather can be measured, understood and predicted.

  • Astronomy – Watch the stars, look at a full moon, find the Big Dipper and the Little Dipper. Track the phases of the moon for a month. Listen for unusual events such as eclipses of the sun or moon, visible planets, meteor showers or passes overhead by the space shuttle (often discussed in advance on TV weather broadcasts).

  • Ecology – Go for a walk in a park, neighborhood, woodland or forest and have a scavenger hunt (find an evergreen tree, an insect, a dead tree, a tree with smooth bark or a tree with acorns). Listen for birds and observe what they do. How are they the same or different from other familiar birds (ducks, pigeons, gulls, crows or robins)?

  • Oceanography – During a trip to the beach, discuss tides, saltwater and the types of birds, fish and mammals that live in the ocean. Collect seashells, seaweed and rocks along the shore. At low tide, explore a tidal pool and find crabs, clams, mussels, barnacles, starfish and sea urchins. Keep living animals in a "pail aquarium" and return them to where they were collected before you go home.

  • Hobbies – Learn to recognize that interests and hobbies are valuable for teaching children about science. Pass along your knowledge and share time together. Gardening, fishing, cooking or auto repair are activities full of potential for learning science. Your enjoyment encourages your youngsters and reinforces the importance of the activity.

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