Science Topics to Cover with Young Kids

I teach parent-child STEM enrichment classes, so that includes talking with the parents about how to teach their kids science. Teaching science is about teaching skills, attitude and concepts. Here’s how to support your child in learning core science process skills. The attitude we try to convey is that science is cool, and learning about science is fun.

So – what about content? What science topics do you teach to young kids?

To be totally honest, I believe the best thing for a parent to do is to follow your child’s interests. Learn about anything they want to learn about in the moment.

We learn best when we are happy and feeling loved – so following a child’s current joy is an opening to learning. Also, if I’m wondering right now what ducks eat, I am SO open to learning and retaining that information! If you talk to me about the solar system in that moment, it’s just not going to sink in. (We can take some cues from responsive language about how to follow our child’s interests in the moment.)

So – generally, follow the child’s interests. But… if you’re a teacher trying to build a curriculum plan or you’re a parent thinking about books to get from the library or activities to have available to support your child’s learning, it can be helpful to take a look at science standards for ideas. Because I teach extracurricular enrichment classes, I don’t have to guarantee that my students could pass a test on these topics by the end of a unit, but I can use them to inspire fun activities to try.

Any standard could lead you to lots of ideas. For example, a pre-K standard is “Describe how young plants and animals are similar to, but not exactly like their parents.” We could have a plant growing project where once a week we draw the plant to see how it has changed from seed to sprout to plant to flowering plant. We could go on a hike and notice the new young trees and compare them to the oldest tallest trees. We could notice how the new leaves are brighter green than the older leaves. We could look at pictures of teachers or parents as babies, then children, then teens, then as adults and notice how they’ve changed. In a multi-age class, I could line up the children by age, and have them notice that, on average, the older you are the bigger you are. We could make collages or do coloring pages with pictures of puppies and dogs, cats and kittens. And so on!

I will paraphrase all the standards below, and link them to my lesson plans full of ideas for activities that would teach this topic. There are more details about the standards in the links given, as seen in this sample:

Next Generation Science Standards – sample

Pre-K. From the New York State Pre-Kindergarten Learning Standards.

  • Force: Explores pushes and pulls, such as those caused by gravity, magnetism and mechanical forces. Uses tools and materials to design and build a device that causes an object to move faster with a push or a pull.
  • States of Matter: describes similarities and differences between solids and liquids, compares and categorizes solids and liquids.
  • Sound Vibrations: investigates vibrating materials like percussion and string instruments, and audio speakers
  • Life Sciences:
    • observes familiar plants and animals, describes what they need to survive
    • Recognize the structures of plants and animals. Learn how they use those parts to help them survive in their habitat.
    • Describes how young plants and animals are similar to, but not exactly like their parents.
  • Earth and Space Sciences
    • Observes and describes the movement of the sun, moon and stars. (Day and night, moon phases, shadows, etc.)
    • Observe and discuss weather conditions and seasons, and how they affect activities and clothing choices
  • Engineering: Ask questions, make observations, and gather info about a situation people want to change or a problem that could be solved with a new or improved tool. Develop a drawing or a physical model of an object that could solve the problem. Test objects designed to solve the problem to compare the strengths and weaknesses.

Kindergarten – from Next Generation Science Standards

  • Forces: Investigates the effects of different strengths or directions of pushes and pulls. Notice that pushing or pulling can change speed or direction of motion, start or stop something. When objects collide they push on one another.
  • Energy (Solar): Observe the effects of sunlight on Earth’s surface. Use tools and materials to build a structure that reduces the warming effect of sun on an area (e.g. umbrella, canopy.)
  • Life Science: All animals need food to live and grow – they obtain their food from plants and other animals. Animals need water. Plants need water and light to live and grow.
  • Weather: Describe the weather – combination of sunlight, precipitation and temperature. Observe patterns over time – like that it’s cooler in the morning than the afternoon, there’s more rain in February than in July. Discuss how humans, animals and plants can change their environment to meet their needs. (Squirrels dig holes to hide food, tree roots break through concrete.)
  • Earth and Human Activity: communicate solutions that will reduce the impact of humans on the land, water, air, and other living things.

First Grade – from Next Generation Science Standards

  • Sound – Conduct investigations to see how vibrating materials make sound, and sound can make materials vibrate.
  • Light – Observe how objects can be seen only when illuminated (or if they give off their own light). When you place objects in a beam of light – does the light pass through (Transparent, translucent, opaque and reflective. Shadows.)
  • Design and build a device that uses light or sound to communicate over a distance. (flashing lights, pattern of drum beats, paper cup and string telephones)
  • Bio-Mimicry: Use materials to design a solution to a human problem by mimicking how plants and animals survive. (e.g. bicycle helmet like a turtle shell)
  • Babies: Understand signals that offspring make (such as crying, cheeping) and the responses of parents (feeding, protecting.)
  • Heredity: Notice that offspring looks similar to, but different than their parents. Notice that individuals of a species look similar but different. (e.g. the spots on two Dalmatian are different and you can tell them apart.)
  • Astronomy: Use observations of the sun, moon and stars to describe patterns that can be predicted. (Moon phases, seasonal patterns of sunrise and sunset.)

Second Grade – from Next Generation Science Standards

  • Materials: Describe and classify materials by their properties (e.g. color, texture, hardness, flexibility, strength, absorbency). Test materials to see which is best suited to a particular purpose. (Sink or Float is one fun approach to this exploration.)
  • Parts: observe how an object made of small pieces can be disassembled and made into a new object.
  • States of Matter / Chemical Reaction: things can be solid or liquid, depending on temperature. Some things can be mixed and unmixed, some cannot. Heating or cooling a substance can cause changes – some are reversible (ice), some are not. (cookies)
  • Plants / Animals
    • Conduct an investigation to see if plants need sun and water to grow.
    • Develop a model that mimics how an animal disperses seeds or pollinates plants.
    • Observe plants and animals to compare the diversity of life in different habitats
  • Geology – learn that Earth events can occur quickly (volcanic eruptions or earthquakes) or so slowly it’s hard to observe (erosion). Compare solutions to slow / prevent wind or water from changing the shape of the land (e.g. plants to reduce erosion)
  • Bodies of water: identify where water can be found on Earth and that it can be solid or liquid. Develop a model that shows types of bodies of water: stream, river, lake…
  • Engineering: Ask questions, make observations, gather info about a situation people want to change. Develop a drawing or model that could solve the problem. Test and compare different solutions

In that list of standards, I can see lots of things that could inspire me with ideas to explore!

But, I also see lots of favorite kids’ topics that aren’t listed in those standards, like dinosaurs, space travel, cars, and construction, so definitely don’t limit yourself to these standards!

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