by Dr Laura Hobbs, Science from the Start



As British Science Week 2016 approaches, we have the perfect opportunity to get our under 5s learning about science. But how do you do that?

Well, the key is to remember that it’s all about exploring. I think this quote (from Dr Emma Weitkamp, Associate Professor in Science Communication, during a live online chat) sums it up:

“With little kids, it’s about having fun and trying things out. Think of them as little experimenters and don’t focus on knowledge gain too much.”

Recognise everyday opportunities

Everything is new to young children; they explore the world around them and learn to understand it. The trick is recognising opportunities to do this, and building on what they already do. So if they’ve got bath toys that float, give them some that sink for comparison. If they pick up a smooth, round pebble, see if you can find a rough, angular one together too. Let them explore what happens to their dinner when they pour their drink into it (within the bounds of safety and sanity, at least). Essentially, let them experiment and help them find ways to do it.

This all happens naturally within everyday life, but sometimes it’s nice to do things deliberately too. If you want to go out for some informal science learning, there’s an under 5s science directory on the Science from the Start website, and sample activities and workshop resources too if you’d like to have a go at home.

Ideas for informal science learning:

Sensory bottles

These are a great way to let babies and young children explore things that wouldn’t be safe to handle directly. They can be as simple as putting some water, oil and glitter in a bottle and watching the glitter move, or as complex as you like. Always make sure the lids are absolutely secure, and supervise use.

Milk swirls

This activity only needs some milk, food colouring and washing up liquid. Put a few drops of colour onto the milk surface, and add a drop of washing up liquid. This reacts with the milk and the resulting movement pushes the colour around. It happens quickly, and children love it. You’ll have to replace the milk after a couple of goes, so use a small bowl and it’ll last longer.

Snow dough

This is amazing stuff, but very messy, so protect your surroundings. Combine cornflour and oil in a roughly 6:1 ratio, and add some glitter if you like. The result is lovely and soft, and it crumbles and compacts like snow. You can sprinkle it, build snowmen with it, make handprints (or Gruffalo footprints) in it, chill it and add animals for learning about habitats and camouflage. The glitter makes it twinkle like snow and if you make paper snowflakes and add some bowls of ice and nice shimmery fabric, you’ve got an instant Frozen theme. Lots of science to be had there – melting and freezing is basic physics after all.

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Plan your own activities for British Science Week