Science Advice, Activities, Books and More for Toddlers

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Content brought to you by Excellent Schools Detroit

If your child loves stargazing, catching fireflies or digging for worms, he already has an appreciation for science – a subject that can seem daunting in the later school years. As the parent of a preschool-aged child, now's the perfect time to introduce your little one to the wonders of science. The best part? Many activities you already do at home can teach kids about their world and how it works.

Education Detroit offers insight and tips from teachers with two Detroit schools:

  • Carver STEM Academy, southwest area: Lawanda Marshall is a pre-kindergarten teacher at a school with special focus on science, tech, engineering, math and music. This mom of two has been with Detroit Public Schools for 20 years, with 15 spent leading preschool. "What I enjoy most about teaching young learners is their excitement about learning and discovery," she says. Marshall and husband Sen have two sons: Ian, 10 and Evan, 7.
  • Little Scholars Child Development Center, Brightmoor area: Jaleela Muhammad is a lead preschool teacher at this independent preschool, which ensures inner-city kids ages 6 weeks to 5 years acquire developmentally appropriate skills for future academic success. Muhammad has been with Little Scholars for about a year, working with the Great Start Readiness Program. The school uses HighScope curriculum, which emphasizes learning through hands-on experiences.

101 for Parents

Here are a few insights to get you into a science mindset with your wee one.

You're the teacher

Parents are their children's first teachers, Marshall says, and that continues even come preschool. Her students are usually entering the school setting for the first time, but that doesn't mean mom and dad step aside. "Parents are also very involved with their children's learning at this young age," says Marshall, who aims to get parents "to remain active in (kids') learning throughout their academic journey."

Part of family time

This applies in Marshall's own life, too. Family road trips are a favorite activity – and naturally filled with lessons. "Our boys enjoy learning about geography and science during our trips as my husband and I teach them that science is everywhere," Marshall says. Muhammad adds that teachable moments are an opportunity to bond and talk. "It'll bring the family together," she says.

The case for early science

When you think of teaching your toddler at home, your first inclinations might be colors, letters or even early reading. But don't leave out science. "It is important to teach science to young learners, because science tends to be one of the subjects that falls by the wayside during this active time of learning," Marshall says. "Science should also be a part of these formative years of learning to help young learners understand the world around them even better."

Activities for Kids

Our experts offered these ideas for your baby, toddler or preschooler.

Ages 0-1

Nature walks: Explore how the earth changes from season to season during daily walks around the neighborhood or at the park. Little ones can enjoy seeing the leaves change colors, notice how the days get shorter or longer, see flowers in bloom or watch icicles form.

From solid to liquid: Play around with water's changing properties. "My favorite is to use Popsicles," Marshall says. "Discuss the color, shape, coldness and taste of the Popsicle and explore how it melts as we put it in our mouth or place it on a paper plate and observe how it melts in the sun opposed to in our kitchen."

Ages 2-3

Explore with five senses: Let toddlers compare a lemon and orange and talk about the differences in the color, shape, texture, taste and smell of each, suggests Marshall. Also, introduce some new vocabulary: sweet, sour, bitter, juicy, etc.

Watch the weather: Have your tyke look outside each morning and observe the day's weather. It's a daily activity in Muhammad's classroom – and one easily applied at home, as well. Little ones can draw pictures of the sun, clouds, rain or snow and even make weather predictions.

Ages 4-5

Color mixing: Fill ice cube trays with water and one drop of food coloring in each slot using red, yellow and blue, Marshall says. Once the cubes are frozen, take two different colored cubes and place them in a small cup or on a piece of paper towel and allow them to melt. Let children observe the colors mix together and discuss the results (yellow + blue = green, red + blue = purple, etc.).

Grow a bean sprout: Place a bean in a plastic bag with a damp paper towel and watch it sprout. Ask your child to record or draw the changes each day in a journal and talk with them about what's happening.

Experiment with mixtures: "We learn about oil and water and how it doesn't mix," Muhammad says. Also try other mixtures, including water with dyes, flour or sand, she suggests. "Will they mix? Will they separate?" Use water bottles for the mixing so the bottles can also serve as sensory objects.

Experiments and Books

Here are a few more ways to keep the fun – and science learning! – going.

Elephant toothpaste

Ever hear of it? This fun science experiment is tried and true, says Marshall, who has used it at home with her two sons.

What you need:

  • Bottle of water (1/4 full)
  • 1 Tbsp. peroxide
  • 1/2 cake of yeast
  • 1 tsp. baking soda

What to do:

Mix the ingredients together inside of the water bottle in the order that they're listed above. Then, watch it ooze out the bottle like out-of-control toothpaste!

Science books

These titles suggested by the Ann Arbor Hands-On Museum bring science to life (remember, it has lots of great preschool fun – and so does Detroit's Michigan Science Center).

  • A Color Of His Own by Leo Lionni: A little chameleon highlights the lessons of nature's camouflage.
  • A Big Guy Took My Ball! by Mo Willems: In this "Elephant and Piggie" book, the pals find out about comparison and relative size of objects.
  • Who Sank the Boat? by Pamela Allen: Kids learn about density, buoyancy and balance in this wacky tale of a cow, donkey, sheep, pig and tiny mouse.
  • The Apple Pie Tree by Zoe Hall: Two sisters discover the colorful four seasons and life cycle of plants through the seasons.
     
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