Even though kids are on summer vacation, you can keep their neurons firing at full power by engaging them in outdoor nature and science activities. There are many simple and inexpensive ways to show your children that science is all around them and that it can be fun, too.
Creating a field notebook is a great tool to teach personal reflection and observation. Let kids decorate the cover of a blank notebook and start them off on their journey by asking them to write down one question they have about nature. One example to get them started is, “How do the bugs and plants in our yard depend on each other?”
There is no wrong addition to a field notebook. They should feel encouraged to draw what they see, reflect on their personal feelings and collect facts about their environment from books or websites. Adding one drawing of a new plant or animal each day is an easy way to teach them the value of constant discovery.
Creating a leaf identification guide is a great field notebook project for all ages. For each type of tree, include a drawing of the tree along with its name, and then paste one of its leaves alongside. This is just one of the many long-term identification projects your child can complete in his or her notebook.
The Scholastic Corporation recommends keeping an eye out for math opportunities while on your outdoor adventures. For example, anything that requires children to match or sort, count, combine or organize will help them foster a close relationship with mathematical and analytical thinking. These skills will help them feel comfortable with these types of thinking when they come across them at school.
Teaching young children the general tools of observation can be great fun, and gives them a valuable life skill. Ask your children to pick one thing outside for the focus of their observations, and spend at least 15 minutes looking at it from different angles. Tell them that the goal is to try to spot as many things that they haven’t noticed before as possible.
If they pick a tree, you can guide them in the beginning by asking how the bark feels and how it is different from the bark of the other trees in the area, or ask them to notice the shape of the leaves and how they grow on the branch. If more than one child is involved in this activity, they can compare the new things they find out about their object and see if the other children noticed that particular feature before.
After kids learn to observe their outdoor world, you can move onto some hands-on projects. Stepping into the shoes of a cartographer and mapping out your yard can introduce children to using a compass to find their way, a project recommended for ages six to 10. First, show your children the basic skill of using a compass to find north, and then to determine any direction they are facing. Next, give them a piece of paper with north, east, south and west written along the four sides, and ask them to draw the features of your yard as they align properly with each direction. For example, have them find which direction your front door faces, and then draw your house on the map accordingly. After this, you can try a treasure hunt with compass directions as the clues.
Building a solar-powered oven is an easy and impressive experiment that can teach children about the different types of heat including solar radiation, conduction and convection. The instructions for making such an oven can be found on the PBS Kids website at www.pbskids.org/zoom/activities/sci/solarcookers.html. When the oven is complete, ask children to try to describe how the oven works, and why each piece is important to its functioning.
Making science a part of your children’s every day life will help open their eyes to the endless possibilities and amazing feats of nature constantly occurring around them. With their minds active and engaged, they will be enthusiastic about science and ready to shine when the school year begins.