Science for Preschoolers: What to introduce and when

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Introducing science to a preschooler seems like something that should be saved for much later in a child’s academic life.

As it turns out, scientific concepts can be a fantastic building block for your preschooler. These concepts can teach them far more than just the science itself; it teaches them how to make observations, think through problems, and sparks their curiosity.

How to introduce science to preschoolers

The Static Electricity science experiment

It is very easy to believe that science topics and concepts should not be introduced to young children. Quite the opposite is true: introducing science to preschoolers builds an incredibly strong foundation for your toddler to work through problems, focus on tasks, and build curiosity and observation through experimentation.

One easy way to introduce science to preschoolers is to bring up how everyday things work around them. This could be through play, household chores, cooking or baking in the kitchen, gardening, observing the weather, and other everyday tasks.

A study done by the EDC (Education Development Center) asked more than 1,400 parents about how they facilitate learning science.

Most parents say they are confident about their ability to teach their young children literacy, math, and social skills, but fewer parents are confident about teaching science.

Education development center, 2018Opens in a new tab.

It’s understandable that many parents do not incorporate science when teaching their children. Science sounds out of most parents’ realm of capabilities! I can completely understand the intimidation of teaching your preschooler science. However, teaching your toddler science might not be as challenging as you think!

It can be very easy to incorporate science into everyday tasks. Below are just a few ideas on how to bring up science in a fun and engaging way to your toddler.

Block play

My toddler loves to build the tallest tower she can with her Duplos. But that tall, skinny tower does the same thing every time: it always falls over.

When that happens, I explain to her that our tower just wasn’t stable enough to stay upright. But let’s see what happens when we build a wider foundation for our tower!

So we try again. And this time, she notices that her tower isn’t nearly as wobbly as it was before.

While this doesn’t seem like much, it’s teaching her that, without a larger and more secure foundation, her tower will not stay upright.

Observing the weather

Wind Whirlers Paper Cup Anemometer experiment

You don’t have to be a meteorologist to start a scientific conversation with your toddler about the weather!

One easy way to start talking science about the weather is to notice when storms start to come in.

How did the clouds change?

Does it feel cooler or warmer right before the storm gets here?

Did you notice that the wind got stronger before the rain started?

These questions get your preschooler to become more aware of what the conditions look and feel like right before a storm gets here. Next time, they may even be able to tell you what they’re noticing before the rain starts!

Gardening

I really love to get my kids involved with our vegetable garden. I think it’s important for them to see how food grows!

One fun way to sneak in some science while gardening is to have your preschooler water one plant but not another for a week or so. After a few days, have a talk with your preschooler about how the two plants look.

Does one plant look greener than the other? Droopier than the other?

What do the leaves look like on the two plants?

Of course, this won’t necessarily work if you have rain coming in, so keep that in mind. You may have to move your experiment inside if the forecast calls for rain.

These ideas have one very important goal in mind: get your preschooler to notice what watering the plant did for it and make observations.

It’s important to not force it on your toddler. If they do not seem interested, try another time.

What can preschoolers learn with science?

The Homemade Cloud experiment

As it turns out, preschoolers do best learning the fundamentals of science first before diving into a particular science.

Preschoolers won’t necessarily learn the science itself, but teaching science to your preschooler allows them to start experimenting and making observations. When science is introduced to a preschooler, you are showing your toddler the scientific method: theory, hypothesis, test, results, revise your theory.

Teaching your toddler the scientific method builds a fantastic foundation for starting school. Not just that, but for everyday life!

The skills a toddler can learn from experimentation and observation can be a huge boost in confidence for your little one. Going through the process of figuring out a problem, failing, and trying again, shows your toddler that failing is okay and that it’s part of what helps you to learn.

Overall, preschoolers can learn important skills when science is introduced to them. It may not look like much, but scientific concepts get your preschooler thinking and asking questions about how things work. That curiosity can bleed over into just about any school subject, regardless if it is a STEM subject or not.

Introducing science to a preschooler

The Magnetic Slime experiment

It can be overwhelming to begin incorporating science into your daily activities with your preschooler, especially if you don’t feel like you are knowledgable in science topics.

One way to introduce science to a preschooler is through play. Many toddler toys out there today have the capability to introduce a toddler to science in some way, even if it is through trial and error. If toys are not an option, incorporate science through everyday activities.

An important note is that you should not push too much too quickly. Since you know your child best, ease in with their pace in mind. If your child is the type to get frustrated quickly when a toy isn’t working the way they want, try to let the failure process happen once and talk through it before helping your child succeed.

If your child is able to handle multiple failures, see if you can let them take the reigns and figure out how to make something work.

When you are going through the scientific method process, talk your child through what’s going on and why something may not have worked.

Drawing back on our block play example: mention how the foundation may not be wide enough to make the tower stable. What happens when we make a wider foundation? Do you think it will support the tower better?

Once your preschooler is more comfortable with the scientific method through play, you could start incorporating sciences that come up naturally in your life.

For example, if you had plans to go to the park in the afternoon but a rain storm rolls in, use this as an opportunity to introduce meteorology to your toddler! It could be as simple as asking how the clouds changed right before the rain rolled in.

Another example is, if you are cooking in the kitchen and are boiling water, you could let your preschooler see what the water looks like in the pot before it boils, then show them the same water while it’s boiling. How did it start boiling? Could it be that the heat under the pot is making the water hotter?

These questions get your child thinking and making their own hypotheses. That’s an important step in introducing science to your preschooler!

Why introducing science concepts to a preschooler is a good idea

Some may think that a preschooler is too young for introducing science concepts. While a preschooler will not be able to tell you they are creating a hypothesis and testing it, they will be learning valuable skills to mold their minds.

Introducing science concepts to a preschooler is important because it prompts them to be curious about what goes on around them. It causes them to automatically process the scientific method on problems. It also teaches them that failure is a part of the learning process.

These science concepts come in handy not only when it’s time to learn individual sciences but is also useful in other school subjects and in everyday life.

Outside of school subjects, science concepts can be wonderful for a young, budding mind.

As any parent of a 3-year-old will tell you: these little toddlers have very big feelings and very little understanding on how to deal with them.

Allowing your preschooler to work through multiple failures through the scientific method shows them that failure is okay, especially while they are trying to work their way to a solution to a problem. It essentially gives them practice in failing.

This is not to say that a toddler introduced to science won’t get frustrated (because they absolutely will), but it may help them to work through failures more efficiently.

When is the best time to introduce science to a preschooler?

The Making Waves experiment

A lot of people get the wrong idea on when science should be introduced to a preschooler, because they feel like their child is not ready for it.

Science and the scientific method can be introduced as early as you would like! It will not look the same in a 1-year-old versus a 3-year-old, but you can begin sparking curiosity and showing how things work as early as possible through simple activities at home.

After talking through how to introduce the scientific method to preschoolers, you may be wondering how you could introduce science concepts to a 1-year-old.

Here’s something I did with my own 1-year-old to start incorporating science concepts:

Lately, I let her have some free play with Duplos. She couldn’t quite figure out how the blocks were supposed to fit together, but I let her try for a little bit on her own. When she started to get frustrated by hitting the two blocks together (she had seen her sister put two blocks together), I sat down with her and showed her how to stack blocks.

It doesn’t sound like much, but in her head, she was going through the scientific method: she wanted to get the blocks to stack on top of each other. She tried pushing the two knob sides together. Then, she realized the blocks would not connect that way. She then tried other ways, until she ultimately got frustrated and I stepped in.

By letting your toddler try to figure things out on their own, it encourages them to experiment and try to figure things out.

Again, introducing the scientific method first is an excellent foundation to introducing other sciences.

Once you are ready to start introducing sciences to your preschooler, you may have to wait until they are closer to 2 and 3 to see progress.

My best advice is to mix things up. Try not to focus entirely on one science subject, because the amount of concepts you can teach a preschooler is limited for each subject. Drawing back on meteorology, you can talk about how a storm starts (hurricanes, tornadoes, rainstorms) and different cloud types, but going into cloud physics may not be quite right for your 3-year-old.

To keep the attention of your little one, introduce a high level of several sciences to your child:

  • Physics: How fast does this heavier, bigger car go down our slide? Does this smaller, lighter car reach the bottom of the slide faster or slower than the heavier car?
  • Chemistry: Let’s see how fast water can freeze in our freezer. What happens if we add salt to one of our cups? Does it freeze quicker or slower than the cup with no salt?
  • Biology: Watch a butterfly’s life cycle and make observation at each stage. How long did our caterpillar stay a caterpillar before going into its chrysalis? Did you notice if the caterpillar got larger? What does the butterfly look like when it first emerges from the chrysalis?

These are only a few examples, but it shows how high level you can keep things while still learning about the science. It also gets your preschooler thinking in ways that they didn’t think before!

As you can see, it doesn’t take a lot of knowledge to introduce science to your preschooler. With the proper tools (and a little help from the internet), you can be well-versed enough to get the conversation started with your toddler.

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