With schools (and childcare) across the nation currently closed, many parents may be wondering how to entertain children that are now at home all day long. You want to give them something fun to do, but with an educational element included as well. One way to do this is to create science experiments and projects that get the children outdoors.
Garden Science for Children: Adaptions
Using gardens to teach science is super easy, and the great thing about nature related experiments and science projects is that children of all ages, and even most adults, find these activities entertaining and enjoy completing a project to see what the results will be. Most are easily adaptable for a majority of age groups too.
Even the youngest scientist can enjoy getting outside and involved in nature related experiments. For younger children, like toddlers, simply explain to them what you are doing, what you hope to achieve or why, and let them help if and when possible. This age is very observant and will enjoy simply watching, most likely in awe and fascination, as the activity is carried out. Afterwards, you can have your child tell you something about what they just saw.
For preschool to younger school-aged children, you can explain to them what you are going to do. Have a discussion and let them tell you what the goal of the project will be and what they predict will happen. They may be able to get more hands-on with the project at this age. Afterwards, have another discussion where they share with you in their own words the results and if their predictions were right.
Older children may very well be able to complete these experiments with little to no adult help, but you should always supervise for safety measures. These children can write down their predictions for the project or what they hope to accomplish by completing it, and what the outcome was. They can also explain to you how the project correlates to nature.
Science Activities for Kids to Try
Below are a few simple science experiment and project ideas to get children outdoors in nature and using their minds. Of course, this is by no means a complete list of what you can do. Ideas are plentiful. Just ask a local teacher or search the internet. Children may even be able to come up with their own ideas to try.
This creature is definitely one that you will find outdoors, and even indoors sometimes on occasion. Although ants can be a nuisance, the way they work together to build their colonies is both fascinating and entertaining to watch.
Creating a DIY ant farm can achieve just that. All you need is a mason/plastic jar with small holes in the lid. You will also need a brown paper bag.
- Walk around until you find a nearby anthill.
- Scoop the anthill into the jar and immediately put in the paper bag and close.
- After 24 hours, the ants will have created tunnels and built back their home, which you will now be able to see through the jar.
- You can keep your anthill thriving by adding crumbs and a moist sponge on top of the dirt.
- Always put back in the paper bag when you are not observing the ants.
Another interesting experiment to try with ants is learning how to attract or repel them. For this simple activity, all you need is two paper plates, some salt, and some sugar.
- Sprinkle salt onto one plate and sugar onto the other.
- Then, find two places around the garden to place the plates.
- Every so often check on them.
- The one with sugar will become covered in ants, while the one with salt will remain untouched.
You may have heard of changing the color of celery by putting the stalk in different colored water. It’s usually a popular activity done in school at some point. You simply take a celery stalk, or several, with leaves and place them into cups of colored water (food coloring). Observe the stalks after several hours, 24 hours, and again at 48 hours.
The leaves should turn the color of the water each stalk is in. You can also cut off the bottom of the stalk and see where the stalk absorbed the water. This shows the process of how plants soak up water, or osmosis. This project can also be done using white flowers, such as daisy or white clover. The white petals will turn the color of which they are placed in.
Children learn by using their senses. What better way to explore those senses than in the garden? A fun idea to use is send your child on a five senses nature scavenger hunt. This can be adapted to fit the needs particular to your garden or outdoor area or edited however you please. Children may even come up with their own ideas to search for.
Children are given a checklist of items to find under each category. For younger children, you may need to call out or list items to them one at a time. A general idea of things to search for include:
- Sight – something with a certain color, shape, size, or pattern or multiples of an object such as five different rocks or three identical flowers
- Sound – an animal sound, something loud, quiet, or something you can make music with
- Smell – a flower or food with a scent, a good smell, a bad smell
- Touch – try to find different textures such as smooth, bumpy, hard, soft, etc.
- Taste – something we could eat and something an animal would eat, or things with different flavors such as sweet, spicy, sour, etc.
How does a leaf breathe? That’s what this simple photosynthesis experiment allows children to actually see and allows them to think of plants as living, breathing organisms. All you need is a bowl of water and a freshly picked leaf.
- Place the leaf in the bowl of water and place a rock on top to fully submerge it.
- Place in a sunny location and wait several hours.
- When you come back to check on it, you should see bubbles coming from the leaf. This is similar to the act of one holding their breath, going under water, and releasing that breath.
Other Garden Related Science Lessons
A few other ideas for gardening themed science activities for children include:
- Placing carrot tops in water and observing what happens
- Teaching about composting
- Observing the life cycle of a butterfly, beginning with the caterpillar
- Growing flowers to study the life cycle of plants
- Learning about garden helpers by creating a worm habitat
A simple online search will provide more information to use as part of your learning discussion, books and songs relating to the topic, as well as expansions for more learning with other project related activities.
7 Ways to Make Gardening With Kids Fun and Full of Learning
Spring is here. What better time to get outside with your children and get your hands dirty in the garden?
Gardening is one of the indispensable life skills you can teach your kids at home. Plus, it’s a fun way to introduce children to backyard nature.
Here are seven home gardening ideas and inspiration to get your little ones growing!
1. Try These Low-Cost, Small Space, and Indoor Garden Activities
If you only have indoor space available, there are plenty of fun garden activities you can do inside! Learn about seeds with an egg carton seed starter (and read “How a Seed Grows” to understand the steps), regrow scraps, and even help a pollinator by making a butterfly feeder.
2. Get Up Close With a Carnivorous Plant
The Venus flytrap is a weird plant with a bite. This hungry plant evolved to grow in the poor soil in small areas of North Carolina and South Carolina. It made up for the lack of nutrients in the soil by getting the food it needs by trapping and digesting bugs.
It can be a fun and fascinating plant for the house, but beware: the Venus flytrap has fallen victim to poachers in the wild. When you buy a plant, be sure it’s ethically grown in a greenhouse. Once you have an ethically-grown plant, put it where it can get at least six hours of sunlight and plenty of bugs. Then study up on your new plant with some fun Venus flytrap facts.
3. Get to Know Your Bug Neighbors
Bugs in your garden are helpful, not creepy. Get to know them better and invite them to stick around awhile with a bug hotel. This guide has instructions for making cozy habitats for our bug friends like bees and ladybugs.
You can also make inviting habitats for beneficial bugs by growing their preferred plants. Here are some suggestions on making bug-friendly garden space, plus information on how these bugs are helpful to us.
Read more about bugs with your child with this free ebook “Creepy Crawlers,” and learn about the parts of a bug here.
4. Make a Sensory Garden
A sensory garden is a fun garden space for young children, and it can be adapted for small or large spaces. These sense-engaging gardens can help young children develop a love and appreciation for nature, according to the PennState Extension.
PennState has instructions for how to make a sensory garden. Some elements to include in a sensory garden are:
- Sight: Plan for contrasting colors, movements, and light with colorful flowers and plants that would attract butterflies, etc.
- Hearing: Adding bird feeders or a bird bath attracts songbirds, while the simple whisper of wind or dripping water are also pleasing sounds.
- Touch: Fuzzy leaves, rough bark, smooth stones, and more elements are pleasing (and not dangerous) to touch.
- Smell: Find flowers and herbs with pleasing, subtle smells.
- Taste: Most importantly, everything in a child’s sensory garden should be non-toxic. Edible flowers and berries make for sweet treats— just make sure there is nothing poisonous.
5. Make a Terrarium to Learn About the Climate
Do you have an old fish bowl or large glass jar laying around? You can use it as a home for your plants. Learn about plants, dirt, and our climate by making a terrarium.
What is a terrarium? It’s like an aquarium, but it’s for land plants instead of fish. Get instructions on how to make a small terrarium from NASA. Other than the container, all the materials are either free or cheap to get. Your child can then decorate the terrarium how they wish. Once it’s built, your child has a living garden ecosystem to treasure and study.
A terrarium acts like a microclimate. Your children can learn more about Earth’s climate here to better understand their new terrarium.
6. Invite Birds and Get Crafty by Making a Bird Feeder
Putting a bird feeder outside the window is a surefire way to encourage hours of entertainment.
Read the story “Birds at My House,” with your child for instructions on making a bird feeder from household objects. (Leer “Pájaros en mi Casa” en Espanol)
Here’s a video on how to use other recycled items to make bird feeders.
7. Give Your Children Their Own Garden Space
Sometimes there’s no better way to learn than by getting your hands dirty. Setting aside an area for your children to grow their own garden can help them get first-hand experience with nature.
The best flowers for kids to plant include hardy and cute species like shasta daisies, milkweed (which are also great at attracting butterflies to the yard), and wild-looking plants like elephant’s ear.
One way to make gardening even more fun is to eat it! Edible plants like carrots, peas, potatoes, and corn, and sweet treats like strawberries, are fun to grow and eat! Find the best vegetables for kids to plant here.
Over 70 garden activities for kids!
1. The Usual Mayhem shares resources for hands-on plant science. Great for when you’re planning those garden activities for kids.
2. Growing Book by Book has ten counting books to read with your budding gardeners. I love discovering new books to read with my students!
3. Rubberboots and Elf Shoes planted potatoes with her kindergarten class. I can’t wait to read about the potato feast they’re going to have at the end of the year.
4. Fantastic Fun and Learning created a hunt for letters in the garden. What a fun way to bring literacy out into nature.
5. World for Learning made a terrarium to extend learning about “The Secret Garden”. I love how she crafted a science activity to go along with the book.
If you’re looking for even more garden activities for kids, check out . . .
- 34 garden activities for kids from The Educators’ Spin On It
- 30 ideas for gardening with kids at KC Edventures
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