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Back to basics
Science and discovery


The wonder of exploration and discovery drives every scientist—and young child. Provide activities that satisfy children’s curiosity, and help them answer questions about the world and the things in it with a well-equipped science or discovery center. You’ll be supporting cognitive, social, language, and physical skills as children step into the worlds of biology, physics, mechanics, and climate.


Guidelines for science activities
Develop and model a curious and enthusiastic attitude toward science activities. Children will find it hard to explore the habits of insects—and the life cycle of a butterfly—if you are squeamish, distant, and disinterested.
Position the science center in good light, near an electrical outlet, and in a quiet corner of the classroom. Make sure children feel able to sit, stare, experiment, and make notations. This means you’ll need to make accessible a table, chair, paper, and markers.
Include a collection of science and nature magazines and books in the library center, and encourage their use in the science center too. Invite parents to borrow reading materials to share with their children at home.
Offer an outdoor discovery area and equip it with weatherproof tools like plastic magnifiers, collection bowls, measuring tools, and a balance scale.
Use a water table as an extension of the science center if you want to contain messy experiments or simply invite an investigation of water.
Offer everyday materials to explore, and include objects children can take apart safely. Encourage investigations of the inner workings of an analog clock (with gears and dial), a disconnected electric switch (with colored wires, screws, and toggles), or a baseball (with layers of unique coverings), for example.
Introduce and use scientific vocabulary appropriate to the ages and developmental levels of the children. Even 3-year-olds will thrill to share names of an insect’s anatomy, including antenna, thorax, abdomen, compound eye, and flight wings, for example.
Help children use their senses to gain information. Encourage children’s vocabulary expansion as they describe first what they see, then what they smell, then what they feel.
Resist teaching facts and principles. Instead, involve children in observing, manipulating, exploring, predicting, analyzing, and understanding. Active sensory participation with materials makes learning meaningful.
Ask open-ended questions to learn what children understand about their observations. Plan subsequent activities to build curiosity and scaffold learning.
Avoid making science magic. It’s not! Instead, help children explore the natural properties and functions of real things in the environment.
Don’t be afraid to say, “I don’t know.” Help children find answers in books, through experiments, or by asking an expert. Introduce the concept of science as a career. Explain that scientists conduct experiments to find answers to hard questions.


Science center basics
Gather these materials to use in the science center. Provide duplicates of equipment to encourage collaboration and cooperation. Rotate materials and modify experiments to keep curiosity and creativity levels high.
balance scale
rain gauge
classroom pets
leaves and twigs
plants and soil
shells and rocks
live insects
horseshoe and bar magnets
measuring utensils
spray bottle
bulb baster
pulleys, levers, and ramps
rulers and tape measures
digital camera and printer
safety goggles
clipboard and pencil