If you think introducing science to preschoolers is strange, think again. Some of the best preschool activities are science related. Preschool age children are inquisitive and open-minded, perfect traits for budding young scientists! Science at a preschool level is a lot of fun, kids are truly mesmerized by chemical reactions, love exploring nature, and jump to build things. And as a bonus you don’t have to get into the hard explanations of what is happening, let observations speak for themselves. So if you are ready to try some science with your preschooler (or older child) here is a list of some of our favorites!
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Click on highlighted project titles for additional directions.
1. SHADOW BOXES (Click here for link) This was one of our school year’s all time favorites for parents and kids alike.
You will need:
- Shoe box lid
- White glue (lots of it!)
- Watered down tempera paint
- Natural objects
Have your child collect a variety of natural objects from your yard or schoolyard. Pour a large pool of white glue into the bottom of a shoe box or shoe box lid and let the kids drop their objects into the glue. To add a little color the kids can drip the watered down paint onto the glue. It will take a few days for the glue to dry but then the box can be hung on the wall like a picture!
AKA slime made with cornstarch and water. This is so much fun, even for the parents! It is very messy so please do it outside or in and easily cleanable place in your home. Add a little green to to the mix to make it look extra slimy!
These can be made with any number of “adhesives” meaning any type of nut butter or in this case Crisco!
4. MAGNETIC BOXES Fill a clear plastic container with metal objects. We used nuts and bolts, pipe cleaners, bobby pins, brads, and paper clips. Hand your child a strong magnet and let them experiment with lifting the objects in the container without touching them. It’s magnetic magic!
5. SHINY PENNIES This is a classic experiment and one that easily pleases preschoolers. Collect dirty tarnished pennies and have the kids soak them in a bowl of vinegar. Within a minute the pennies will be instantly “shined”. For an added bonus, rinse some of the pennies in water after the vinegar dip and then compare them to the vinegar only pennies; if you wait an hour the vinegar pennies will start to oxidize and turn green. VARIATION: A mom at school said she did this experiment at home using a variety of solutions to shine the pennies. You can try salsa (the acid in tomatoes also acts to clean the pennies), lemon juice, soap and water, and vinegar and see which one works the best.
6. FLOATERS & SINKERS (Click here for link) Another classic experiment. Fill a large bowl, kiddie pool, or water table with water. Collect a variety of objects that sink and float. Make sure to collect objects that are similar in size but vastly different in density, like a rock and a tennis ball. Ask your child to predict whether the object will sink or float and let them drop it in the water. Have your child classify them into two different stacks, the “Floaters” and the “Sinkers”. Sounds simple but trust me, it’s a hit with preschoolers!
7. MILK PAINTING (Click here for link) This project is very popular on the internet and I can see why. The combination of milk, dish soap, and food coloring makes for some color swirling magic! You can even dip paper in the milk to make a milk “print” to keep!
8. DANCING SPAGHETTI (Click here for link) Super simple project you can do with a couple of items from your pantry. Mix water with baking soda in a clear glass or cup, and add a few small pieces of spaghetti to the mix. Then add vinegar. Bubbles will form on the spaghetti and make it “dance”.
9. WIZARD’S BREW Another fabulous project from the Usborne Big Book of Science Things to Make and Do.
You will need:
- Baking Soda
- Glass jar
- Food coloring
To do the experiment fill the jar halfway with vinegar, have your child add a couple drops of food coloring and some glitter. Then stir in a good dallop of dishsoap. Place the jar on a tray or cookie sheet and have your child add in a heaping teaspoon of baking soda, then sit back and and let the foaming begin! The soap makes it foam rather than fizz.
10. BOUNCING MAGNETS (Click here for link) This project involves some prep work but is a lot of fun, even for adults. The idea is that by threading donut shaped magnets onto a dowel with the same polarity facing each other the magnets will repel and magically “bounce”. Reversing the polarity of one of the magnets causes them to stick together.
11. SEED STARTS Growing things is a very important lesson. I have done two variations on this project, one using cardboard egg cartons and the other using ziploc baggies. The ziplock bag yields the more interesting visual results and the egg carton version makes plants that are much easier to transfer to soil down the road.
- ZIPLOC VERSION: For the ziploc version buy a variety of seeds, beans and corn work well since they are large and easy to pick up. Give your child a folded wet paper towel and have them drop a small amount of seeds on it. Try to leave some space between the seeds if you actually want to plant them, otherwise the roots will tangle. Place the paper towel in a small ziploc bag and hang the bag in a sunny window or outside in a sunny spot. Within a few days the seeds will germinate and the roots will be visible.
- EGG CARTON VERSION: To do the egg carton version fill a cardboard egg carton with potting soil, wet the soil, and have you child place a seed or two in each egg compartment. Place the egg carton on a cookie sheet either indoors in a sunny spot or outside. If you place it outside it may get cold for the seeds at night depending on where you live so I placed some wax paper over the carton during the day to create a hothouse effect that encourages germination. Make sure you spray or lightly water the seeds on a daily basis as it is easy for them to dry out. When the plants have started to sprout you can break off the section of the egg carton and place it directly in the soil!
12. MARBLE RUN
Another favorite by all! Don’t throw away your paper towel and toilet paper rolls. Cut them in half and let your child decorate them with markers or stickers. Then tape them to a large piece of cardboard or a wall or foam core using painter’s tape. Have your child determine where each track piece should go. Let them drop a marble down the run so they can see why certain spots/angles work better than others. The painter’s tape allows for easy adjustment. We used duct tape once the entire run was complete to secure the run in a more permanent fashion.
13. COLOR MIXING
There are so many variations of color mixing projects and kids seem to love every one. A very simple one is to pour water into three large bowls, then add blue, red, and yellow food coloring to one bowl each. Have an additional color mixing bowl available for your child and a dumping bowl. Give your child two plastic cups and let them experiment with taking a cupful of water from two of the primary colors and pouring them in the mixing bowl. Because the new color appears almost instantly it seems like a magic trick! Dump the third color in the dumping bowl and repeat the experiment. Using light colored or glass bowls makes the new colors more visible.
Kids love scavenger hunts. Period. If you take the time to set up one related to a specific idea it can be a learning exercise. Since preschoolers for the most part can’t read, I create visual lists with images pulled off the web. For a recycling themed scavenger hunt I divided up items into three categories: compostables, recyclables, and trash. Then I hid these items around the school and gave each child one of the lists attached here: Recycling Scavenger Hunt Sheets. They had a blast finding the items. I re-hid them quite often so they could repeat the hunt.
15. FLOATING BALL GAME
If you love science experiments with kids buy this book:
Great projects, great photos, great fun! We did this experiment on a rainy day when the kids were stuck inside. It’s a little complicated for preschoolers to make but they did seem to enjoy the end result: Floating Ball Game from the Usborne Book of Science Things to Make and Do
16. WORM INVESTIGATION
It’s no secret; I love worm bins. They are fun for kids and make rich compost. We took some worms out of the worm bin at school one day, placed them in a pile of dirt in plastic tubs, and gave the kids magnifying glasses and tongue depressors to help them observe the worms (use the depressors to gently lift the worms out of the soil- fingers work too!). Then at snack we saved all our green waste and “fed” it to the worms back at the bin. If you don’t have a worm bin you can collect some earthworms and do a similar investigation. I find wetting the soil in a nice shady area in your yard usually bring a few worms to the surface.
17. LAYERED LIQUIDS (Click here for link) What can I say, kids love mixing liquids togther! You can do this project with common pantry ingredients, messy but worth it!
18. BUTTERFLY FEEDERS
Why not? I found this great activity on the web.
You will need:
- Small paper plate or plastic lid
- Over-ripe Fruit
- Orange juice
Here’s how we did it: Punch holes near the edges of a small paper plate or plastic lid. Tie yarn through the holes (have your child feed the yarn through the holes for a fine motor skills bonus), then gather and tie the yarn at the top as if this is a hanging plant. Have your child pick some flowers and tape them to the yarn. Add a piece of fresh fruit in the middle of the plate, pour a little juice on top, and hang in a place where you can see it. Admittedly it rained the day after we made these at school and our poor feeder was pretty thrashed, so I never saw a butterfly actually visit it. But most of the fun is in the making!
19. SMELLY GAME (Click here for link) This will be either a hit or a miss in your house depending on if your child can stomach a variety of smells. Yes, there are some stinkers but also some sweet ones. It’s fun to think of things to put in the jars. An alternative is to use yogurt cups covered with a lightweight cloth or with holes poked in the lid. Then you can use actual objects in the containers instead of smells in a liquid form.
20. DIY CHIA PET (Click here for link) Fuzzy is still sitting on my kitchen counter! This activity requires parent involvement, it’s a little tricky for preschoolers, but they will love watching their “pet” grow.
Are you pumped yet?
Science Books for Kids
Want even more? Here are some awesome science books for kids:
- Big Book of Science Things to Make and Do.
- And by the brilliant MaryAnn Kohl: Science Arts: Discovering Science Through Art Experiences
- The Book of Totally Irresponsible Science: 64 Daring Experiments for Young Scientists