Science and Nature Support Children’s Development
Exploring the natural world through hands-on science is an important way that children learn. Hands-on science activities encourage children to observe and manipulate items from the environment, while making predictions about what will happen and then testing those predictions. Science allows children to explore, experiment, question, discover, and understand natural and human-made objects and forces. Experiments and activities with science and nature also stimulate children’s curiosity, encourage use of all five senses, and help to build vocabulary.
What Teachers Should Know about Science and Nature Play
Early science activities are most effective when children have opportunities to explore, experiment, and make sense of the objects they are manipulating, with the guidance and support of an adult who knows how to ask interesting questions. Science study can include a wide variety of activities, including the following:
- Exploring the properties of water and ice
- Experimenting with wet and dry sand
- Mixing colors to create new ones
- Examining objects with magnifying glasses or simple microscopes
- Exploring and comparing leaves, sticks, and other natural objects
- Testing out magnets of different types and sizes
- Peeling fruits and vegetables to see what’s inside
- and many more activities
Remember that some science activities can be messy. Keep science activities under control by setting up a separate science area and guiding children to keep science materials in the science area. Many science activities can also be effective outdoors, where cleanup is simpler. Consider creating an outdoor science area as well as an indoor one.
The Teacher’s Role in the Science and Nature Center
Child care providers play an important role in children’s science learning. Here are some tips to help children get the most out of the center:
- Organize materials for display and exploration.
- Rotate items regularly to keep them fresh, complement other areas of study, or reflect seasons.
- Provide pictorial step-by-step instructions for simple experiments.
- Help children set up and perform experiments, but don’t take over.
- Ask open-ended questions to encourage further exploration (e.g., “What do you think would happen if…?” or “I wonder how this works.”)
- Consider inviting an older child or adult to be a “visiting scientist” and facilitate in the center for a day or two each month.
- Model ways to find information, including reading books and searching online (but be sure to preview websites before sharing them with children).
- Observe the children as they explore, and pay attention to the language and thinking skills they use.
For more specific tips on setting up a science and nature center, see Planning a Successful Science and Nature Center in Child Care.
For More Information
To learn more about science and other learning centers in child care, take a look at the following eXtension Alliance for Better Child Care articles: